Goodbye, Nashville…Sort Of

The sun sets on the Belcourt.
The sun sets on the Belcourt.

The sun sets on the Belcourt.  Three arched awnings slant-shade the ticket window.  I sit inside what has always been my ideal coffee shop, Fido, and watch interesting people walk up and down the bricked path alongside 21st Avenue.  In this neighborhood, Hillsboro Village, dusk embodies one of the best things about Nashville:  an independent, artistic spirit that flies beyond the city’s rhinestoned and cornponed stereotypes.  It’s never been about country music for me.  Even when I gave it what I felt was a fair shot, it never quite fit.  Too much of rock’s rebel fire flows in these veins.  As a teenager, I was told that, one day, I would like country music.  Perhaps that’s a foregone conclusion for some in my hometown in rural west Tennessee.  But here I am, pushing thirty-nine, and I would take a fuzzed out, power-chord burst of disjointed indie rock any day.


This piece is not about music, however.  Rock writing is excessive enough without my stubborn opinions.  No, it’s about saying goodbye to the city I’ve called home since my mid-twenties.  Goodbye to my coming-of-age, where I learned about the onstage rush that follows a good crowd response at a gig, only to feel the emptiness of realizing that most people have never heard of me or our band.  It’s where I learned how to endure personal hardship, and about the value of friends and family.  (Wow, this is beginning to sound a little too much like a country song.)  Nashville is where I learned that the world is big in a way that statistics and demographics cannot teach.  It’s where I learned that people are generally good, or at least good-hearted, barring the selfishness that afflicts us all.  And here comes the cliche:  it’s where I figured out who I am.  I know it sounds sentimental, but there’s no better way to put it.  When you find yourself alone in a city that is sixty times larger than the town in which you grew up, you tend to learn some hard lessons.  You really learn them.  Internalize them, move forward from them, grow with them.  Nashville symbolizes all of this.


It’s true that we’re not moving very far–the opposite end of an adjacent county–but we are, in fact, moving.  For the first time in a really long time, I will not have Davidson County tags on my license plate.  A trip downtown will require a bit more planning.  I will miss the easy access to places like Fido and the Red Door, or to the rock clubs on Elliston Place, or Centennial Park in the fall, when the TACA craft fair sets up its rows of tents.  It’s not that I’ve been going to these places of late, but I’ve grown accustomed to knowing that they are there.  That they are part of the city I’ve proudly called home for so many tumultuous and glorious years.


Anyway, a new chapter begins, and I’m actually warming to the notion of a quieter existence in a smaller setting, my growing family around me.  Chances are, however, that when someone from another part of the country asks where I’m from, I’ll say Nashville.  It’s close enough, right?


Rewind.  Earlier I said that dusk embodies this so-called independent, artistic spirit, but I did not explain how.  It’s not complicated.  Dusk is magic, wherever you are–city, ocean, mountains, woods.  Dusk is when, thirteen years ago, I recognized the genie-soul* of Hillsboro Village, and that essence extended to include all of Nashville in some way or other.  I felt it then as I feel it now, watching the sun disappear behind Sam’s Sports Bar and Grill.

The sun disappears behind Sam's.
The sun disappears behind Sam’s.


*”Genie-soul” is a Walker Percy-ism.  He uses the term to indicate the general feeling of a place:  “every place has [it] or else is not a place.”  You really should read The Moviegoer.

Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition

We see these memes come across our Facebook feeds from time to time–snappy-fonted lists of ways to live.  The most famous one I recall begins with “dance like nobody’s watching.”  I guess that’s a nice sentiment, but I know myself well enough to admit that I’m never going to do that.  It seems like advice for a certain personality type.  The anxiety that would accompany such an effort outweighs any potential reward. It’s just not worth it, i.e., it’s not practical (for me, anyway, and probably not for about 49% of the population).  The rest of the aforementioned meme rings equally impractical:  we’ve all been hurt by someone we love and will likely be hurt again; someone is always listening, unless you’re alone in a far wilderness; and life on earth, though sometimes grand, cannot honestly be called “heaven.”


So I made a list.  It’s too long to fit into a snappy-fonted meme, but each point felt necessary.  It was designed with all people in mind, regardless of creed.  I understand that some of these suggestions may not resonate with less individualistic cultures, but my intention was to root it solely in the modern human experience, as I have come to know it in first-world, western civilization.  Please comment.


Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition


1.  Know that there will always be something out of reach.

2.  As often as needed, figure out who you are.  Operate from that place.  This may require courage.

3.  Moments of insecurity will come.  Instead of trying to overcome them, learn to weather them with dignity and grace.

4.  Everybody feels pain and loss.  Weather these also with dignity and grace.

5.  Learn to see the world with imagination.

6.  Search for the explanation; accept that you may never find a satisfactory one.

7.  Enjoy all of your senses.

8.  Realize that the majority of people mean you no harm; they’re trying to get through the day, too.

9.  Give.

10.  If you create things, share them.  Even when it feels like few are interested.  An audience of one is still an audience.

11.  If you do not create things, then nourish a love for the things created by others.

12.  Accept that the thing you’re good at may not appeal to very many people.  Then again, it may.  Either way, your personal satisfaction in doing it should not diminish.

13.  Remember that people who give advice are, like you, trying to figure things out.  Suspect anyone who claims to have all of life’s answers.

14.  Embrace the virtues of the social class* into which you were born.  Social-climbing is soulless.

15.  Let a landscape (or seascape, or cityscape) imprint itself on your psyche.

16.  If you demand space to make up your mind, allow others the same courtesy.  You cannot dictate another’s thoughts.

17.  Travel, as far and as frequently as your circumstances will allow.

18.  Try silence.

19.  Be sure that your words are your own.

20.  Remember that occasional loneliness is the price of individuality.


*explicit lyrics Dance Like...

Most People Don’t Know Who We Are

Everybody knows that there are millions of people in the world they will never meet.  Awash in our routines and daily interactions, it is easy to forget just how anonymous we really are.  Even the reach of many celebrities only extends so far.  For every big fish in a small pond, there is an even bigger small-fish in a big pond.  Wrap your head around that.

Feeling anonymous at a college graduation.
Feeling anonymous at a college graduation.


Thankfully, we do not need to dwell on our anonymity.  In most cases, all it takes is one person to make us feel special.  And if you have more than one, then you are well-off indeed.  Yet there are certain situations which make me feel a little more anonymous than usual.


Below is a short list of anonymity-affirming scenarios that I have experienced.  Many of them have links that illustrate my point (in case you do not feel anonymous enough already).  These are in no particular order:



1.  Seeing myself in the background of someone else’s photo.  This happens sometimes on social media.  We took our son to an Easter egg hunt at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville.  I’ve met the pastor, but I wouldn’t say that we really know each other.  He posted a photo of the hunt on Instagram, and, sure enough, there I was, passing through the left side of the frame.


2.  Eating at a busy restaurant in New York City.  At Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, they seated us at a long table with a bunch of strangers.  While this strategy may encourage interaction for some, it only ramped up the anxiety for this introvert.  By the way, if you have a negative view of introversion, you should read “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert”.


3.  Hustling through a subway station.


4.  Seeing a longtime favorite band in concert.  Click here to read a prose poem I wrote about this experience.


5.  Attending a college graduation ceremony (see photo above).  This year, my sister-in-law graduated from college.  At the ceremony, my aunt-in-law leaned over and commented about how “all these people” (ourselves included) are just a “blip on the radar” of how many people there are in the world.  She was right, and I could not stop thinking that here were hundreds of people that I have never seen before, and they have never seen me before, and it is likely that none of us will ever meet.


In conclusion, I need to say that the intention of this post is not to make anyone feel insignificant or unimportant.  Everyone matters.  As mentioned before, we operate on an individual-to-individual basis, thankfully.  But I find that it is healthy for my ego when I remember that I am part of a very big world.  That there are millions of people experiencing life through their own personal lenses.  It’s not all about me.  So, here’s to anonymity.