Saturday, April 23, 2016

The End? The Brutally Honest Post You Probably Weren't Waiting For

Once upon a time there was a blog. The blog was started as a journey began, full of excitement and hope. As time went by the pages filled with exciting pictures of adventures, but occasionally a look at the challenges. Not often, as the goal was to look at the positive. As time went by the negatives began to weigh heavily and the new adventures, once so fresh and thrilling, became monotony with the constant uncertainties looming. Without a home base to unwind and recharge, burn out eventually was bound to set in. It took almost three years, but sometime towards the end of that third year, we knew we had to make a change.

The problem is, when your financial life revolves around a schedule that demands you book shows 6-12 months in advance, and there is no unemployment or cushion money available if a job does not arrive after you halted booking those gigs, it is easier to just kick the can down the road over and over again. Additionally, Michael's earlier jobs were in IT, a field that doesn't just stay put while you take off for four years. The technology moves forward. Younger, brighter competition comes on the scene with recent certifications and experience. Needless to say, the last year left us on edge. We put in our end date and sat back to see what would happen. 

According to psychologists, uncertainty is more stressful than knowing that something bad is going to happen. It could happen. But maybe it won't. But maybe it will... 

When we all started on this journey it was a giant leap of faith. Somehow, God provided, but often by the slimmest of margins, and sometimes to a deficit. We spent a lot of time treading water, having enough to scrape by, but not enough to move forward. Of course, that is the way we sometimes lived in a sticks and bricks home, balancing mortgage payments, utility bills, old vehicles, and the occasional layoff through various tech crashes. At least this time we were free of that rat race and on an adventure of a lifetime. It was worth every moment of uncertainty as we'd look to summer and hope to find enough events that pay in order to eat in six months. 

It was worth it all... until it wasn't. 

(Warning, Debby Downing ahead but we'll turn it around in the end.)

The decision was made, but left nothing to replace it. When you stop dreaming and planning on the future of the band, the next CD, the next show stopper, you have to find something else. Unfortunately, that something else was desperately unknown. We had no idea what part of the country we'd land. Could we risk trying to stop up north where we may find ourselves on minimum wages, in the bus with multiple adults looking for jobs, still unable to afford a decent place to live, and winter heading towards us in a bus with no insulation or built in heater, and while RV lots tend to close up for the season? What about south? We considered Houston but they have a rather significant down-turn right in jobs because of the oil industry. At least we could live in an RV lot all year, but that's a lot of jobs to cover in a down economy, on low wages, all to afford to live where we really didn't want to live. How do you get Michael back into IT? Where do the twins go to college? Can I homeschool Sean and Mary if I'm working full time trying to make ends meet? With no easy answers, a lot of dark thoughts can set in, stomping all over my preferred dreamy state of existence. 

It's show biz.
Dueling Banjos
Girl Style
Then add burn out to that, which can really do a job on you.

2 1/2 to 3 years on the road would have been a great run. 4 1/2 years almost took the joy from the previous. To be very clear, the first three years were filled with the usual ups and downs of life, but with the occasional punctuated side of FAN-TA-STIC. Transitions, especially major ones, are draining, and crossing it with burn-out and a bit of uncertainty can make you forget the awesome for a time.

But the downs do eventually find everyone and in this case, even the best of times can turn into drudgery when you find yourself in limbo on the next step. Uncertain limbo sucks. For me, I simply lost my desire to blog and checked out. I read one stupid book after the next, didn't fight the bus clutter monster, didn't care if the kids wore the same clothes 3 days in a row, and hit only the minimum three Rs in homeschooling. I wasn't depressed at all. I was checked out. Sort of in survival mode. It was almost fun, but not particularly useful. It wasn't just me, it was everyone, and perhaps especially Alex, who was also tackling online college and a deep dread of another winter season of playing pretend. Sean was bored and started to live off of video games, Mary was bored and watched way too much anime, and even Katie, who usually is the one to maintain function, stopped cartooning and reading about productivity. We were toast. 

Wearing Bronco colors
at a show, minus Dad,
who watched the
Super Bowl alone in VA
We found ourselves unemployed last fall and living off the credit cards as we could not go to our Arizona destinations. It was possible Michael may have to fly out for a job, leaving me to manage the van and bus, which terrifies me to drive. Instead we headed to our usual spot in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. When he finally started a job in December and headed to Virginia, the rest of us quickly reworked the show, having Mary take over bass lines on the U-Bass, with Sean, Katie and I occasionally filling in on the extras, removing banjo or mandolin when another had to take the bass, and learning more Irish tunes, which are very friendly to optional bass and/or banjo. 

Hospital stay for testing
 after a seizure.
From January through early March we went to our shows, minus Michael, dealing with a growing impatience from the lot, a seizure from our youngest which was followed by a hospital stay and tests we couldn't afford but agreed to anyway, then family tragedies that required an early departure to Colorado.

Would I now discourage someone else from taking such a dramatic leap into the unknown? Nope. Life will have ups and downs anyway and the last several months are a worthy price to pay for the previous years.

And so, here I've let loose my Debby Downer...

Well, guess what? We made it! Once again, through insurmountable odds, God provided. We have some wonderful friends who not only took a chance and got Michael a job in northern Virginia, but they opened their property to us while we try to scrape together the funds we'll need to retire the home on wheels and find another sticks and bricks home.
Blizzard in Colorado

As of today we have been here for almost four weeks. Michael, Sean, Mary, and I are living in an above-the-garage apartment. The twins are living in the bus, which is parked right next to it. We've had only one show in over a month, having had the one in Colorado canceled from a blizzard. Our next show is in August. I was supposed to try to find summer shows to keep us afloat but somehow my brain kept finding excuses, and everyone decided it would be preferable to just go get ordinary low-paying jobs instead. We'll play in August to remind ourselves how, then only when requested, and only as time allows. 

In the last month I have procrastinated pretty much everything, from laundry to slowly unpacking the bus. I didn't realize how tightly coiled up my nerves had become until they started to have a chance to unwind, unwind, then unwind some more. 

The uncertainty monster is still out there, as we try to find a vehicle to replace our poor, dying minivan, then get jobs to afford first and last month's rent in a place that doesn't cost more than we make per month. We'll be back to the usual lifestyle of barely treading water soon enough, only in a new location. Seems our lot in life, but I'm not particularly materialistic, thankfully. I long far more for peace. 

This time, while treading water, there is at least a place to stretch out and steady income, even if it isn't enough at this time to provide. It has potential and it's a starting spot. I'm gradually finding my optimism return as I can allow myself to dream about what I may want to be in my next life. There are so many options. Maybe I'll teach music again? Write that music curriculum? Sew and make clay items for summer festival booths? Write a book? Become a public speaker? (I actually like doing that. Go figure.) Work at Costco or Taco Bell... Ok, that last one is probably closer to the start, but I've never been one to do "normal" for long, so I'll go ahead and dream.

I'm not sure what that means for this blog. It may have served its usefulness. Part of me wants to write up a formal account of our journey someday, but it can't be right away. After our stressful year in 2011 as we prepared to launch on this adventure, the challenges we had getting out of the house and moving into the bus almost erased all the joyful times we had as a part time band and family simply living a quiet life in northern Colorado. I can finally look back on it with objectivity, and with a whole lot of joy and longing. I expect I will need time to shake off some of late 2015 and early 2016, then I can look back on this blog, our old calendar, and the wonderful pictures, with joy and longing as well. Then maybe I'll write that book about our journey.

Or that steam punk fictional book idea I had from a dream where this girl from the future is thrown back in time, and likely another dimension...