On Following Dreams, OR: Wisdom(?) from Pig Destroyer
There’s this headline from The Onion that I love because it is un-comedy: “Find what you love: do it on nights and weekends.” People need to do what they love; that is not to say that everyone will make a living with what they love. Do what you have to in order to pay your bills, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your talent with the world. Should people full-time, full-throttle pursue their passions? In particular, should your friend fully focus on the drums and pass on other studies?
Well, I don’t know.
I have some questions.
First of all, if you’ll pardon my being blunt, how good is he? There’s “my friends are very impressed,” and then there’s “my band teacher says I’m good,” but let’s face it: if you’re talking about pursuing a career in music performance, neither of those will necessarily cut it. “I worked up to section leader my senior year” is different from “I made all-state band for three years running.” What level of skill has he obtained?
Second, what does he want out of life? It’s entirely possible that literally the only thing he wants is to drum. That makes it easy. But when contemplating a career in a field that’s a tough nut to crack, requiring skill and effort and luck, it’s important to be honest with oneself. How important is it to your friend to have a nice new car? Own a home? Have kids in the next ten years? None of those make a career as a drummer impossible, of course; getting stuck in either-or thinking is logical failing. But work in a creative field is not necessarily the easiest path to creature comforts or stability, and I don’t use those terms mockingly: there are several reasons I became a teacher rather than pursuing creative writing my whole life, and I’d be lying if I said a stable job with good insurance wasn’t one of them. I have no regrets. Before anything else, I wanted a home with a family I could support, and I have those things. Sharing a studio apartment with a roommate and hoping I could sell a story to make rent? I wasn’t interested.
Maybe your friend is. Maybe splitting an apartment with roommates/bandmates through his 20s, maybe spending a lot of time on the road, sounds fantastic: there’s a romance to that life. Maybe if he gets to play gigs a couple nights a week he’s totally cool with waiting tables, because those gigs make life worth living. Lady Gaga has a tattoo of a Rilke quote that translates to, “Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” Is that how your friend feels about playing the drums?
Playing the drums would not be forbidden, of course: not if he majored in something else, not if he got a 9-5 office job, not if he waits tables… he can always play the drums, and regardless of his life path, I hope he does. What if he pursued music education, and teaching the drums to kids was part of his life? What if drumming is a side gig? On the other side of things, will he always wonder if he could have “made it” if he hadn’t gotten bogged down with X, Y, and Z?
One of my favorite essays I’ve ever read is called “Into the Darkness” by David Rowell, which The Washington Post published in 2009: the author spends a week with a grindcore band called Pig Destroyer before they play Maryland Death Fest. It’s a wonderful read about what metal means to people, and what Pig Destroyer means to the people who play in it. I’ll throw in a few excerpts…
They are also quite successful, considering the band's part-time status. Pig Destroyer has sold nearly 100,000 albums, and it earns about $20,000 each year from merchandising, album sales and live appearances, which, when the band isn't playing a festival, are generally in front of crowds of 300 to 800. Though the band has, over its 12 years together, performed in such far-flung countries as Japan, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Mexico and the United Kingdom, it plays only a handful of shows a year because its members are fiercely protective of their lives outside the band. Hull, for example, is the devoted father of two small boys and a frequent volunteer at his older son's school. He had been working on his PhD in physics at Boston College before eventually abandoning it. Now he works for the Department of Defense, though that's all he can tell me for security reasons…
While in Boston, he joined a metal band with a name that can't be printed here, and recorded a CD with them, but he stayed for only a couple of months. "I couldn't take off and do all the touring that they wanted to do," he said. But that wasn't the only problem. He began to realize: "'Hmmm, I'm the only one with a credit card. I'm the only one with the ability to rent a car. I'm the only one with any sort of education.' A lot of things were starting to come into focus. And I thought, 'I'm not sure I want to follow this path...This is fun, but I'm eventually going to want to have a family. I eventually want to be comfortable. I want to have a future.' "
He got tired of life as a teaching assistant making $12,000 a year, he said, relocated to Washington and started up his career. He was working at Lockheed Martin in the IT department, which, he said, put to use his skills as an analytical thinker, when Pig Destroyer started up in 1997. From the beginning, Hull saw the band as something on the side to a fuller life. His main interest was writing and recording, rather than performing on the road…
Hull enjoys the careful balance he has set for himself. "I like being in my own house, and I like having my family around. On the road it's like: 'Where are we going to find ourselves tonight? Oh, no hotel? Okay, we'll just get back on the road. Who's going to drive?' It's just an endless array of problems you have to solve."
When Pig Destroyer does play a show, the preference is for weekends, which lets Hull save as much vacation time as he can for his family.
"Ultimately, this is not a career," Hull said of Pig Destroyer. "Bands typically fall apart after a while. And then your ability to want to continue to do this sort of wanes, and then all of a sudden you're stuck in a position where you've professionally chosen to do this for your livelihood, and all of a sudden you have to do this, and it's a job. That's why we choose to keep a lot of the pressure off. That's why we don't tour so much. All of that just tears people apart."
I don’t know your friend the drummer any more than I know the guys in Pig Destroyer. I don’t know what sort of drumming he wants to do, or what other interests he has, or anything. I don’t know what his life goals are, or if he even knows for sure what they are yet. What I am certain of, is that figuring out one’s life goals, and finding one’s way toward those things that truly matter – whatever they are – is an essential condition for happiness. There’s an opportunity cost for everything. Go in with your eyes open. Talk to people in your prospective field. Think: what life do I want, and what am I willing to sacrifice for it? Figure out what is most essential for your happiness, pursue it, and remember there is more than one way to skin a cat. Or destroy a pig. Whatever.
Pair of Birds
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” – Matthew 10:29
The air burned. Water streamed from his yellow hair down into the sea as he gasped, violently, over and over while his lungs remembered breath. He bobbed with the waves, fighting to remain above the surface and remember.
It had moved across the sky, too far. How long had he been under? It made no sense. None of it did. He felt the weight on his shoulders and back, waterlogged feathers that had clung to him despite everything, and that heaviness told him it was true.
He gazed upward at the burning sun, the blue and the handful of clouds. He looked in each direction three or four times, and he might have cried out had his chest contained sufficient air, but he knew it did not matter. The waves would swallow any sound he made as it had swallowed him, and his father was gone.
Icarus chose a direction and began to swim. Only the gulls saw him, and they cawed at the mangled feathers of the broken bird.
You pour the sun, the
rain, the land itself into
a glass, wring the last
red drop, too precious
to fall aside. Hands toiled
for this moment,
migrant hands for
pennies to the pound,
deft and rapid and
sweating with the work so
the vintner can mash and
measure and blend the barrels
so they taste just so, age
just so, at 55 degrees
for a decade or more behind
the cork you pop to release
the planting, the harvest,
the past to your glass:
Took this one down to revise and potentially submit a polished version elsewhere at some point. Thank you for the feedback, everyone!
Stab my baby in the head,
carve and masticate
my offspring in your name.
Wield your knife with
mercy and precision that the
death may be quick,
the blood profuse enough to
stain my hands so they
will never wash. Thus
I can never forget
my trespass on your
high sensibilities, and
my work upon your
next sacrifice may be
touched by the brutal,
The priest was good and God was great;
life was a holy mission.
They said my friends would burn in hell,
and then I had some questions.
Ten paws in ink,
one tat per cat,
ascend her arm like
carpeted platforms on
each of her walls or
We choose our lives, you see,
our selves and purposes and loves.
The little orange stray
poked a curious nose on
her porch, so she
fed him and loved him as
long as she could.
She chose to be
angel of cats.
Mr. Richard Stebbins, Widower (an excerpt)
She had channeled another spirit today, for Mr. Stebbins. In the last week she had used her powers for some of those who entered for a photograph, when she felt a spirit’s magnetic energy most strongly. Today had been remarkable, even among Hannah’s works. She had been the jointure, just as much as that meeting of the rafters and whitewashed plaster above his bed. William closed his eyes to relive it again.
“I have never done this,” Stebbins said, tripping over the last uncertain word.
“Sat for a photograph?”
“No,” he said, “no.” His was a stately figure, with gray hairs flecking an auburn beard. “Spirits. I mean I have never tried before. With spirits.”
Hannah stepped out from behind the counter and went to him. “Have you lost someone, sir?”
“Can I ask who, Mr.—”
“Stebbins. I’m Richard Stebbins. My wife. I lost my wife, Lucretia, two years ago.”
“I am very sorry, Mr. Stebbins. It is a painful thing. I know those I have lost have passed to something better, which brings me great comfort, but it remains painful.”
“Yes.” The word was hard for Stebbins to say.
“And you say you have not communicated with a spirit before?”
“I have not, ma’am.”
“Does the prospect make you anxious, Mr. Stebbins?”
He was silent.
“Unknown things shake us,” Hannah said, “but I have communicated with spirits many times. Many times. I am a medium. The experience shakes me with every connection, Mr. Stebbins, but not with fear. The spirits shake me with beauty.”
“A medium?” Stebbins asked. Hannah nodded. He looked about the room, then bowed his head and quietly asked, “Is she here now?” Whatever else life had made him, he was a widower.
Hannah Stuart looked toward a spot only she could see, then closed her eyes. She was reaching out with her soul; William gazed on the unearthly tenderness of her aspect. Her arms lifted and extended away from her sides, palms down, as though balancing herself on a high wire, and her lips parted open. The two men waited intently till her lips barely moved and she said, “Yes, I feel her.” William’s heart thudded within him; he could hardly imagine how Stebbins must feel.
Hannah’s tone sounded slight, ethereal. “Do you have something of hers?” Stebbins shuffled and reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve a small prayer book, and Hannah’s palm turned slowly upward. Stebbins held the book in both hands and looked uncertainly at the medium; he turned to William, who nodded toward Hannah’s still form, and at last Stebbins placed the prayer book in her upturned palm.
They waited some moments more. A customer outside stepped to the door, but Mumler caught his eye through the window and waved him away.
Hannah spoke in a voice William had never heard before. “Richard?”
William glanced at the dumbfounded man, but only for a moment; something transfigured Hannah and commanded their eyes.
“It’s me, Richard,” she said. “It’s Lucretia. I am well, Richard. It’s beautiful here, so beautiful…” A tear trickled over Hannah’s cheekbone. “She grows stronger. I feel such joy to see her grow stronger…” She held the same attitude for another minute before her arms dropped to her sides. Her eyelids opened, and Stebbins crossed himself in prayer.
Hannah seemed unsteady, and William stepped close to her. She returned the small book to the widower. “Do you know whom she referred to, Mr. Stebbins? She said, ‘She grows stronger.’ Do you have a daughter?”
“No. But her little niece had scarlet fever these past weeks. She’s through the worst of it now…. That was her voice,” Stebbins said. He drew out a handkerchief, dabbed his eyes, then clutched the cloth with both hands. “Is Lucretia still here?” he whispered. “Can I talk to her?”
Hannah closed her eyes to concentrate. When she wavered, William steadied her shoulder. She said, “I do not feel her any longer.”
“Do you think she might still appear in a spirit photograph? Mr. Mumler?”
“Anything is possible,” he said. “But Mrs. Stuart is a gifted woman, and I have never known her to be wrong.”
The resulting image had shown only Mr. Stebbins. The spirit photographer failed sometimes: no legitimate medium could claim perfect communication with all spirits. Sometimes they were not there. And if Hannah said there was no spirit present, then there was no spirit—he would not trade in lies. His work showed what was true. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live. Amos.
It was hard to sleep after such a day.
Bringing the words back
I got another rejection this morning. Rejections are fine, truly; whenever you send a piece of writing to a publication, a rejection is the expected outcome, and that’s the math of it. I once heard thirdhand of a writer who said she aims to receive a hundred rejections per year, which helped me grasp how this all works. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pieces accepted for publication, but there will not be some magical “made it” point where my quill develops a Midas touch; each time I see a message from a journal, I say the word “rejected” before I open it, bracing and grounding myself. Rejections are the norm and the price.
That being said, they suck.
As planned, I still sat down to write this morning. I’m a teacher on his last summer day before reporting for work tomorrow; my daughters are with grandparents and my wife is at work, so I need to make some literary hay while the sun shines. The rejection was a cloud, though. It was kindly phrased: “This one didn’t quite feel like a match for us, so we’re going to pass this time, but we enjoyed the read. The ______ made me smile.” It was a nice thing to say and a wholly expected outcome, and yet…
I contemplated killing an hour or so with Netflix.
Instead, I read a few pieces on Prose. @Huckleberry_Hoo made me laugh. @InLoveWithWords made me sad. @AlisonAudrey shared her writer’s dream. And by the time I had read their pieces, language felt vibrant again. I pulled up this lovely challenge by @TheWolfeDen, and I wrote.
I joined Prose in October 2019 because I wanted to write again and needed some help getting unstuck. I have kept using Prose through this morning because I wanted to write again and needed some help getting unstuck.
My thanks, everybody.
writing in the morning fog
words hang thick,
indistinct, shadow forms that
merge with coffee steam and
each other, the thing itself
hazy and obscure but