|Hello from a welcome cool night here in Tacoma. I’ve got my pjs on early, and I’m curled up on the sofa to write a letter to you that has been in my heart to write — in various and ever-evolving forms — for some time now … at least since the end of May, when last I wrote to you.|
So much — and so little — has happened since.
Where to start? Well, how about we start with …
|… the aftermath.May 27th was the day the last day I wrote to you. That was the day we released the last song of The 2020101 Project, which you can listen to / read / participate in here. |
It was also the final day of the spring fundraiser we did for our friend Michelle, who was about to start an autologous stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma. I’m thrilled to report that Michelle is doing really well; and because of your contributions to our fundraiser, we were able to send her over $13,000 to help her cover the enormous out-of-pocket costs associated with this life-giving treatment.
And on May 28th … I crashed. Hard. Actually, I remember feeling a combination of feelings: relief — because of being done with a couple of big projects — and a big, unwelcome sense of unease — because … well, I wasn’t sure why at the time.
I now know that my unidentified unease was the result of a case of good old fashioned burnout. I should have felt lighter because I’d just crossed a finish line. But what I felt instead was anxiety and aimlessness and a persistent feeling like I’d left something burning on a stove somewhere.
I didn’t spend too much time beating myself up about the burnout (thankfully); but the experience did cause me to take pause and evaluate how, exactly, I’d gotten myself to the end of the candle wick.
Part of it was definitely …
… the marathon we ran like a sprint.
When the pandemic first hit here in March of 2020, everyone’s lives were upturned in one way or another. For me and Jamie, it meant that we had to completely reinvent how we would do our work.
And to the vast credit of our enormously supportive community, who followed us along on a journey to reimagine how we do what we do, we were able to largely transform our business model into one where people who believe in what we do make ongoing, small-dollar, monthly contributions — like a Shannon-and-Jamie subscription! — to be a part of empowering us to continue our work.
(We call our supportive community Misfit Stars, and if you’re not yet part of it, but would like to be, we’d be grateful to have you — just go to misfitstars.com/support to sign up. ✨)
That work now includes:making and releasing new music, which we can make available for free to anyone who wants it;
providing free or low-cost production, mixing, and mastering as a gift to other working artists who were hit hard by the pandemic;
mentorship of emerging artists in songwriting, recording, mixing, and sustainable business and artist wellbeing practices;
production of a weekly podcast;
and nurturing community among the members of Misfit Stars, which this year included the launch of our own private Misfit Stars Social Network, ongoing monthly Zoom meet-ups with members, and special interest break-out activities within the membership — like our new Misfit Stars Antiracist Book & Movie Club.
And for 15 months straight, we worked at a sprint pace at all of those things … all of which was such fulfilling and meaningful work. We have been and remain so grateful for it; and it’s exciting and fun to discover the ways in which this new model is opening up new possibilities for our work that we hadn’t imagined before.
But going into it, I think I didn’t anticipate one thing, and that is …
… the weight of stories.
Here’s what I mean. I’ve had a motto for my work for some time now, and it’s this:I don’t do music because I love music.
And I love music … so much!
But … I do music because I love people.Music, for me, is like the front door to a deeper conversation, a deeper experience that I want to have with people. The aim I have for all the work I do is that it might provide people — including me — with an opportunity to make a deeper connection with themselves, and with others, and perhaps with a broader and more inclusive view of humanity.
I realize that might sound lofty, but if there’s one thing I learned from Jerry Maguire, it’s that it you gotta have a good mission statement, right?
All joking aside, this is the stuff that drives me. It’s the stuff I think I’m on this planet to spend my time, efforts, talents, and skills to do. And I honestly feel incredibly grateful to have identified it — and to have been afforded the privilege of identifying it.
And that’s why I so enthusiastically throw my arms wide open to the experiences, stories, and lives of people — just like we did this past year when we created the Misfit Stars community, and when we made an album based on the collected stories of people’s experience of the year 2020. It’s the stuff I know I’m supposed to do.
… But man! Weren’t those 15 months a doozy?! For a while, I think the opportunity to pour myself into all of this people-work was a great distraction from the trauma of the time. It gave me purpose in the chaos. And so I ran with it. And ran … and ran … and ran.
And then … by the time our big album push was at its ending point in late May, I realized that the energy required of me to hold space for so many people, each of whom were going through such a hard time, and also to try to create something out of all the stories I had invited, while also processing my own experience of this off-the-charts stressful time in the background of all of it … well … it turns out that was a lot to carry while running.
A good friend suggested toward the end of that period of time that it was a lot like …
… interval training.
It was our dear friend Scott who sent us a lovingly encouraging voice message one day in early May, in which he compared the pace we’d put ourselves on for the 2020101 album — a new song written, recorded, and released every 10 days for 101 days — to the interval training that he (and I, too, as a young person) had done in competitive swimming.
Interval training is when you do something like ten 50-meter laps, one every minute, for 10 minutes. The first few laps are a piece of cake. You finish each of those first few with plenty of time to spare before you have to start your next minute. You think to yourself, this isn’t hard! I totally got this!
And then, the buildup of fatigue begins, and you start slowing down. You have fewer and fewer seconds between each lap to rest; and by the last few, you reach the end of the 50 meters only to have to turn right back around and start your next minute. Out of breath, exhausted, nearly unable to go on.
Yep. That’s what the end of May felt like for me.
And when I thought about it a little more, I realized that the broader pace that Jamie and I had been on for the previous decade — imagining, writing, recording, and releasing a new album every year, and then taking it on the road for a whole third of the year to play concerts for people — was also something akin to interval training, albeit longer intervals, and during which I now realize I hadn’t built in enough time for the rest and refueling necessary for sustainable creative effort, not to mention a healthy and sustainable life.
But this is my big purpose. This is what I know I’m here to do. And I want to be able to do it for long time to come. So I began to heed the call of my body, mind, and spirit for …
I’m so grateful we had the time to do some of that in June. Toward the end of the month, we traveled to northern California to see my mom for the first time in 18 months, and we were able to visit with and hug plenty of vaccinated friends. On our return trip, we took a coastal route, driving slowly up Highway 1 in California, until it joins with Highway 101 along the Oregon coast, over the Astoria bridge, and back into Washington.
By the time we got home, I really did feel rested. Restored. Ready to engage again in the work required to cultivate and imagine my next creative project, and to dive back into the relationships in our community that drive all of the work we do.
We’d been home for several days, and I was even thinking about writing you the first version of this letter, and then …
… heartbreak rocked our world.
Just over two weeks ago, we received news that our friend Scott — the same Scott I wrote about above, who was a dedicated member and foundational part of our Misfit Stars community — had died by suicide. It probably goes without saying, but we were devastated. His passing tore through our Misfit Stars community like a rocket, too, as he had made such a big and positive impact on the lives of so many people there.
Scott’s death has thrust both Jamie and me into a torrent of emotions, questions, contemplations, and confrontations surrounding our own sense of humanity and place in the universe. I can say at this moment — a little more than two weeks into this grief — that I feel an unexpected both-at-the-same-time-ness, with a deep and yawning sadness for my friend in one hand, and in the other a brilliant and life-giving gratitude for the intersection my life made with his.
There are so many thoughts and feelings that bubble to the surface in these days — too many to write about here — but Jamie and I have been fortunate to have each other, as well as other mutual friends of Scott’s, to talk and process and grieve with.
We captured one such conversation between ourselves for a Misfit Stars podcast episode on July 28th. If you’d like to listen to the episode, you’ll find it here. Our aim was to talk frankly and open-heartedly about our grief, with the hope that sharing our experience of processing this loss would be helpful to anyone who has been through this kind of thing, too.
And so …
… now what?
How do we move forward from here, carrying this new story, these new feelings, these new questions about our lives and our place here on this planet, in this time, in this moment?
I can tell you with certainty that … I don’t yet exactly know. And that not knowing feels ok. But I think it’s making me even more keenly focused on what matters, on what my values are, and on creating days and years ahead that allow me to sustainably spend my time, energy, talents, and skills on those things that matter to me.
It’s funny … there’s this quirk of the newsletter software that I use to write these letters to you, in which the previous message I’ve written shows up as a template for the new message I’m about to compose. The result for me, in the experience of writing this letter to you tonight, is that for the entirety of the time I’ve been writing, this remnant of my last letter to you has appeared on my screen for me to see the whole time. It’s a piece of writing from the stories I collected for the song “Before / After,” the last song on 2020101, and it’s this:
A change in perspective.
A need to slow down.
A focus on the question, “What really matters?”
A commitment to self.
A commitment to the relationships that matter most.
An active pursuit of healing.
That motto that I wrote above — about why I do what I do — it still stands. I don’t know how that vision will flesh itself out in the coming days / weeks / months, just like I don’t yet know what the focus or theme of my next project will be. These things take time to grow. They must be cultivated. Nurtured.
But I can tell you that I’m here, listening for the next right thing, and focused on doing it from a healing place, a nurtured place, a connected and compassionate place.
So … that’s where I’m at. And …
… in the immediate future:
We’re doing exactly ONE SHOW this summer. It’s in 2 weeks — Saturday, August 21st — at the Shipwrecked Music Festival in Astoria, Oregon.
It’s the inaugural summer music festival hosted by 94.9 The Bridge, which has been playing a few of my songs on the radio for the last several months. (How fun!)
It’ll be outdoors at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, with plenty of room for socially-distanced music listening and fun. If you’re in the PNW, or planning to travel here, we would love to see you there!
I’ll end this epic Love Letter (are you still reading? thank you! it’s been a long one) with a couple photos from the time that Jamie and I spent in the mountains and with the trees last week. It was a healing time.
Standing at the top of Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park, I was overwhelmed with wonder at the utter vastness of that landscape … and how tiny I am against the backdrop of those mountain peaks … and then at how teeny-tiny even that landscape is in comparison to the planet, to the universe … and again how small I am in this body compared to all of it ……. and yet ……. how inextricably connected to the vastness I am. Like you are. Like Scott is. Like the trees are. Like we are.
Love and healing — shannon