Life comes in chapters, and sometimes those line up with birthdays. The weeks before my 29th highlight the pages that have been turning in my life lately.
I spent my birthday weekend on a date with Uncle Sam, at one of my last drills with the Virginia Army National Guard. Thanks to him, I’ve spent one weekend a month traveling up or down the Blue Ridge to the armory in Lynchburg (or Bedford or Farmville), explored a bit along the way, spent more time in Blackstone than anyone ever should, been to Georgia, Arkansas, New York, Texas, and New Mexico for training, and worked overseas in Germany, Qatar, and Romania (with stops in 7 other countries on the way). It’s been a good ride, and I’ve gotten to do and see some cool things, from riding in helicopters to shooting sniper rifles to volunteering at Doha school sports days to hearing Romanian folk songs sung on a Transylvanian patio.
Along the way, I got to serve in an organization whose history as the Virginia militia precedes both the Army and the U.S., earned its nickname in the Civil War, its motto in the Great War, its fame at Omaha Beach and the Normandy Campaign, and whose blue and grey patch symbolizes the re-union of a fractured America.
Most importantly, I got to work with some of the best people I’ve ever known, from Iraq and Afghanistan vets to brand-new privates to sergeants who had been NCOs longer than I’d been alive. On the civilian side, they have been everything from college students to counselors to policemen to mechanics to farmers to cell tower repairmen. We’ve shared everything for a little while, from stories that will never be told outside of the ranks, to cigarettes under helmets while the sky came pouring down around us, to soggy plates of Army chow. Thank you for all of that, and everything you’ve taught me. “29th, let’s go,” “Rally on the Virginians!” and “Ever Forward!”
I spent the week before drill in Greensboro laying down tracks for a new 4-song EP that will also feature my friends Joe and Stacey Rinaldi of the Rinaldi Flying Circus. Joe is a fantastic arranger and guitar player, and Stacey is a powerhouse singer who reminds me of Patsy Cline. The songs are based on short stories by Flannery O’Connor, a Georgia author whose works and vision were a revelation to me in college. Kelley Wills, a West Virginia friend whose clawhammer style is what got me to trade in my Marshall amp for a Gretsch banjo, is also a fantastic artist, and she’ll be doing the cover art for the EP's release in early January.
I also submitted my applications for MFA-Poetry programs next fall and the Cambridge English Language Teaching for Adults certificate. Traveling; working with local students, budding writers, and people transitioning from different backgrounds; and publishing and performing my own poetry and stories, whether on page or on stage, is what I will be doing with this next chapter of my life.
I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving with my family at my Granddad’s east Carolina farm. The house was loud, and stories and games went long into the night.
Most of my songs are about running away from home and trying to find your way back. What I’ve learned, though, from this last year and a half overseas, and coming back, and finding love everywhere I went—even filling up the Facebook wall or my cell phone as dear friends from around the world wished me a happy birthday—is that you can find home anywhere you have chosen to love those around you, and have found yourself loved, too. My heart is full.
Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more details and some sneak peaks on the EP, and come hear the music in Leesburg and Berryville this month!