It’s gotta be close to 4 a.m. I’ve been drinking since 8. I watch the smoke from my regular non-menthol cigarette swirl into the soon-to-be emerging late summer dawn. I’m not a smoker but circumstance can change a man in the blink of an eye. Late nights like these, the Bud Heavies flow freely, as well as the conversations, and I’m always given a cigarette, whether I ask for the addiction or not, and as I take in the tobacco concoction and then return it to the world – loose, and slowly through my drunken lips – I always watch the smoke, flowing both into and around any and all obstacles, consumed by the night, just like the drinks, the words, just like us. Circumstance… my current one has me surrounded on all sides. There’s the woman I’m kinda sorta talking to, and there’s another woman I kinda sorta want to be talking to and her sister… there’s a man – some mid-life crisis complete with soft beer belly and black mustache who wants to fight me, and the man’s buddy’s girl who instigated his building desire by complaining I was looking at her (a blonde, she looked familiar)… and there’s the man’s buddy, my buddy, and three random people to whom I’ve promised a ride home, the older female of the three presently and proudly claiming to have a handgun in her purse. The bartenders are already home asleep; we are outside by the parking lot picnic tables, and there’s no one here but us – we are the animals from these surrounding woods. But even more intriguing and complicated than this current circumstance is the prevailing thought pin-balling through my mind as I process it…
What the hell am I doing with my life?
My name is Dustin Danger. I’m an entertainer, musician, artist, and writer from Oakwood; one half of The Villens, and a founding member of the Rebelsfare Collective, an organization aimed at providing a supportive outlet for creativity and the arts in East Central Illinois.
The opening passage of this post is also the opening of my new short story, Brown Dog Nights, which is due out later this year. Many times, I’ve found that a lot of writers, along with musicians and artists, settle for generalities in their respective work rather than to truly open up and divulge their most profound moments, emotions, and ideas for all to judge. But I believe we should strive as individuals to know and tell our story, and in the process, we are certain to find that what we consider to be personal is in fact relatable. We are all human, and in one form or another, we are all going through the same hardships, desires, and successes. And it extends through history, through the passing of DNA from one generation to the next. We still marvel at Shakespeare and Hemingway, Beethoven and The Beatles, Monet and Basquiat. The true essence of the human experience is timeless and without discrimination – which brings me back to the universality of the opening passage…
Now, you may be scrolling up the page, rereading, and thinking, “I most definitely have never been in that situation!” – but disregarding the specifics, how many times have we each asked ourselves that concluding question… “What the hell am I doing with my life?”
We recently celebrated the New Year, and with it, the inauguration of a new President and new administration. Regardless of where we may fall on the political spectrum; regardless of our age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or income, it is ultimately up to each one of us to attain our happiness and discover our unique purpose. I truly believe in the phrase “Do not let your circumstances dictate your possibilities.” From Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Amelia Earhart and Roberto Clemente, many people have proven this sentiment to be true.
Is it easy? No. Often, we can feel like aimless wanderers, waiting for someone to take us by the hand and show us the way. I love to be outdoors. I love to hike. Just like a trail in Kickapoo Park, the twists and turns and ups and downs of life may leave us confused as to the direction we are heading and temporarily blind us from the full picture. But we are never lost; we are invariably on our path. And with every curve and dip, it is up to us to be aware and make the most of our surroundings. Will every place we travel be perfect? Of course not. But every moment in our life is a choice we are making. Negativity and doubt will incontrovertibly come, but it is our decision whether we embrace or dismiss these feelings. Below is an art piece I created for Rebelsfare Collective: Volume Three titled Rise which depicts the attempt to overcome this strife.
I’m a massive fan and practitioner of martial arts. And if there’s one life lesson I’ve learned through this passion, it’s that hard work, discipline, and persistence will lead to accomplishments. I have two beautiful young daughters, and I’ve worked fulltime as a banker for over a decade – like many of us, my life is busy, and I spin a lot of plates. Most evenings, after chores, after homework, after supper, after baths, after bedtime prayers, I stay up past midnight, working on what I feel I’m being led to achieve. And even so, I would have never expected to be publishing books, performing concerts, shooting videos, and coordinating projects to the capacity that I am. I rarely take the necessary moments to look back upon these achievements. Mostly, this is because I’m always on the move, ready to be open for the next opportunity regardless of how the previous endeavor fared. We will not always succeed. But we should always press forward – circling and slipping the strikes we see coming, but never letting the strikes that catch us keep us down.
One of my favorite songs is This Year by The White Buffalo. The lyrics poignantly chronicle the passing of the seasons in conjunction with the singer’s hopes and fears throughout a single year. I find empathy in these verses as it describes how the excitement and determination we have in January tends to fade, and we fall back into old patterns of thinking and inaction. But this New Year, I encourage all of us to fight this disposition with purpose. I encourage all of us to not hide from, but run vigilantly toward the question “What the hell am I doing with my life?”
Below is my video submission for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. The piece I chose to perform, Chasing the Moon, details a lot of the struggles I’ve faced in finding my unique purpose and accepting that what I had always considered to be setbacks, were steps forward on a path that has led me to where I am today, and to where I’ll be tomorrow.
We are all chasing the moon. And the stars we collect along the way are what ensure our spirits are kept burning bright. And no matter who you are, where you are from, or how you feel… we are in this thing together.
Thank you so much, Nicole, for allowing me this new opportunity to be a guest blogger, and thank all of you, the readers, for graciously taking the time to be my audience – it is always appreciated.