I’m sitting here, in my new town, kind of wondering how I got here. I’m an academic, so there’s always that feeling of professional fraud, but I also got the chance to listen to some of my favourite music lately, and a lot of it reminded me of that distance. That I really am 38.

I still remember the time I think I ultimately decided on grad school. It was around 6 in the morning, I was getting ready for another miserable day at my miserable desk job. I put on the last track from Beth Orton’s not-quite debut album Trailer Park (Superpinkymandy came before it, but it was only released in Japan in limited quantities) called “Galaxy of Emptiness”.

The stars light a sky
On a galaxy of emptiness tonight
Though I’m happiest
When there’s no reason for me to be

I was writing at this point, something I enjoyed. I think I was still on my first novel then (not so good, though I love my second one). It was a night-time release for me. Very late. But here I was early in the morning, trying to figure out how to live like this for the next five decades. Something had to change.

With no one’s expectation to weigh heavy on my heart
And so much hope it sometimes tears me all apart
Won’t you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?
Could you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?

It had to change from the awful 45-minute commute that was only about 10 miles. It had to change from the painfully pleasant music of NPR’s morning edition. It had to change from the houses I loved but had no dream whatsoever of actually owning. And it had to change because I still managed to feel such joy, such hope when I could catch the solitude of night. The possibility of distance and time.

‘Cause there’s a galaxy of emptiness tonight
A whole galaxy of emptiness tonight
A galaxy of emptiness tonight

And I did grad school. I got my MA in English in about 15 months. Then I went back to a miserable desk job.

Six months later, I got an offer to teach a course at one of the community colleges in the area. Within a year I was teaching at two others, upwards of 16 courses per year. And working retail. Piecing together a living. I did that for the next four years.

The stars light a sky
On a gutter full of broken dreams tonight
Though I’m not content, that’s the way it seems to be
Still, I’ve been fighting all week
Though I don’t know what for
Hoping someone else, somewhere near knows the score
Won’t you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?
Could you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?

In that time, full-time jobs came and went. My ability to be outside, enjoying my night sky and my radio was nearly zero. I grew to be afraid of a lot of people. Finally, my wife and I decided to move to a remote area where we liked to go on vacation. I decided to try for a doctorate.

Monkey see, monkey do
I spent my whole life surrounded by people like you
With all that expectation to weigh heavy on your heart
But no ideas to later tear it all apart
Won’t you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?
Could you please
Knock me off my feet for a while?

That was a pain and joy-filled five years. I worked for an outfitter. I worked retail. I worked in radio. I started my own business out of my backpack, growing it into a my own store. I graduated.

And then I stuck around. I got a job at the same university, teaching a little and writing a lot. Not paid brilliantly. Not treated brilliantly. My marriage was falling apart at this point. My boss and a bunch of other writers quit. I was told I would not be considered for a promotion. I got on the job market. I found solitude in the night again, when I couldn’t be talked down to, yelled at, or have anything be my fault.

‘Cause there’s a galaxy of emptiness tonight
A whole wide galaxy of emptiness tonight
Beware the galaxy of emptiness tonight
‘Cause there’s a galaxy of emptiness tonight
A whole wide galaxy of emptiness tonight
Yeah, there’s a galaxy of emptiness
A whole wide galaxy of emptiness tonight
Beware the galaxy of emptiness tonight
A galaxy of emptiness
A whole galaxy of stars

I left.

That’s 15 years of my life right there. But it doesn’t feel that far away that I had my head buried in the carpet at 6am, sick to my stomach that I was off to a job where I’d be yelled at all day for very little money. That seems like just a little bit ago.

The same thing happened with another song, “Jubilation” from the brilliant band Anything Box. An iconic song, that. It was one my sister used to listen to when she went away to high school. I can consider myself a part of Generation X thanks to her, even though I was born at the very tail end of it. I fit there.

Every time I close my eyes
I hide behind the blackened lies 
That follow me throughout my history.

The lives I’ve touched
The things I’ve done.
The things I know will never come
Get washed away
In my happiness.

And oh, when you feel stranded, don’t take for granted this thing called life.

It’s one of those rare times in my life when I am genuinely happy. Not perfectly so, but happy. But I also know, with my moving, with my divorce, with my new career, I am leaving a great deal behind.

Moving onward hard to do
To leave the things that I once knew.
Childhood is the one thing
That won’t come back to me.

It’s part of being an adult, I know, but that doesn’t make it all that much easier. When you find the places and moments and times where you are the most content. And then you have to walk away from them, hoping there are others. That’s what life is.

How can I sit idly by
Watching all these hours denied?
My name is all I have
For an offering.

The one thing I can always be is me. Sometimes I hate myself. I’ll own that. But it’s what I can embody and it is what I can give to others.

Built up walls that crumbled down
People marched and stood their ground
I saw it happen
It was part of me

Then I think of the news that I’ve lived through: the end of the Cold War, the rise of China, the age of terrorism. More events and joy and tears and hope than can be embraced by just one person. But it is also a part of me, of who I am.

This is why music is magic. But it’s most magical when we take the time to remember where we have gone with it. To remember how far we have come. It doesn’t take long to go far, either. From the floor of the living room to the rest of your life. It’s amazing how fast it can go. But it’s also amazing how much of it we all get.

Oh, don’t take for granted
Oh, don’t take for granted
Oh, don’t take for granted…

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