Friday, August 09, 2013

The Special Magic of Music

"Look out any window
Look out any open door
Look out any window
See what's going on
In the world around you."

Bruce and Jonathan Hornsby

Twenty–five years ago today, I started working for a midsized daily newspaper in north Texas.

That sentence really doesn't do justice to the wide range of emotions I was experiencing on this day in 1988. Some background information probably is in order.

I grew up in Arkansas, went to school there, and I had been working there ever since finishing my schooling (or so I thought). My life was there. My friends were there. And, by 1988, I felt like I had a few things going for me — not everything I had hoped for but some things. I was working for the newspaper I had dreamed of working for since I was a boy. It didn't pay as well as I guess I had hoped it would, and I had been looking for alternatives in 1988, but that didn't change the fact that I was proud to be a part of that organization.

My parents, both natives of Texas, had moved back there a few years earlier, and my mother was helping me in any way she could think of to find a more significant job. She offered suggestions, which were of little help, frankly, from a distance — but her ideas did help me stay focused.

Mom was better at identifying options in her own territory, and she encouraged me to move to Texas. If a better job could not be found, I could go to graduate school and find some sort of temporary job to make ends meet.

By the summer of 1988, I had been accepted by the University of North Texas' graduate program, and I had been offered a job at the Denton newspaper. It felt like the planets were moving into line.

I didn't really have a long–term plan in mind. If I had, I would have realized that about the only thing you can do with a master's in journalism is teach, and teaching was not my long–term objective in those days. Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed working with students, sharing with them the things I have learned over the years. I hope it will make them better journalists.

But, even though I have now been teaching for close to one–eighth of my life, I'm not sure if that is where my future — or what is left of it — lies. Consequently, that degree may not have much real value in my life. I don't know yet.

Anyway, I decided to take the plunge for grad school. I gave my two weeks' notice in mid–July, and I made the move on August 7. In between, I picked up a few albums, and I listened to them a few times before my move, but I didn't really listen to them until after the move was behind me.

I wasn't sure at the time if I was doing the right thing. I guess it's normal to have such doubts. I had a vague idea of what I was getting. I would be living close to my parents and my brother for the first time since I was in school (and, ironically, I would be going back to school at about the same time that I moved so close to my family) and in an area with which I was pretty familiar. After all, I'd been visiting Dallas all my life. It seemed like my best option.

But, fairly quickly, I discovered that, for many reasons, living someplace is not the same as visiting the same place. After the move was over, I could look around my apartment and see all kinds of things that were familiar — but they were in new surroundings, and those surroundings didn't include my friends back in Little Rock.

My life had changed, and there were many times when I thought it wasn't for the better. I wanted free time in the evenings, which I had, but my friends were more than 300 miles away. When school started up a few weeks later, I discovered that my evenings would be taken up with an entirely new preoccupation — graduate school and the demands of each class.

My job was the same and yet different, too. I was doing the same work for the newspaper that I had done before — but my new job was at an afternoon newspaper whereas I had spent the last 4½ years working for a morning newspaper.

The difference between them was, literally, night and day.

For the latter, I worked nights; the hours changed a bit over the years, but typically I went to work around 3 p.m., and my shift ended around midnight. On high school and college football nights, it was not unusual for my shift to go on until 2 or 3 in the morning.

For the former, I had to be at work by 5 a.m. in order to finish putting together that afternoon's newspaper. Trying to function for the first month or so was like trying to cope with a never–ending case of jet lag. I would find myself at home in the afternoons, totally uncertain what I should be doing. Half of me said I should be getting ready for work, and the other half reminded me that I had already been to work.

It was during this time that I listened — really listened — to the records I had purchased in the weeks before my move. (In hindsight, I probably should have waited until after my move to purchase those records. Those vinyl LPs were pretty heavy, and I didn't need the additional bulk.)

The most prominent probably was "Scenes From the Southside," Bruce Hornsby's followup to his Grammy–winning debut album, "The Way It Is."

It's hard to describe my mindset at that time. Somewhere in my mind, I think I always expected to move back to Arkansas. I had never imagined my life being anywhere else. I guess I figured my exile to Texas would be temporary.

And, too, I think I was in kind of a state of disbelief. I had left behind what had always been my dream job for a very uncertain future.

Well, here I am, 25 years later, and I haven't been back to Arkansas except for visits. I haven't lived in Texas the whole time, either — I lived in Oklahoma for four years — but my exile has lasted a lot longer than I dreamed it would.

Most of the time, I suppose, that doesn't bother me, but there are times when it does ... like football Saturdays and occasions when my thoughts return, either through reverie or by force, to the days of the past.

And today, on the 25th anniversary. I remember how I felt on that first day — anxious, exhilarated and then totally astonished to be finished with my work by 2 in the afternoon! Then I went home, stretched out on my couch and fell asleep!

Heck, I had been up since shortly before 4 a.m.

When I woke up, I listened to that Bruce Hornsby album, especially the track titled "Look Out Any Window." I listened to it over and over. I thought of the friends I had left behind, some of whom are deceased now, and I thought of the future, much of which has now played out in my life. I can only hope there is more to come before I check out.

Life goes on within you and without you, George Harrison wrote. I never really knew what that meant until 25 years ago today.

That is the special magic, the special power of music.