A stranger to myself
If you've never traveled to a country where you don't speak the language, I can't recommend it enough. Travel in and of itself is powerful and shapes our worldview unlike anything else. But traveling to a place that's completely alien to you does even more than that. It forces you to face yourself. When it forced me to, I found I was facing a stranger.
Two years ago I finished a song in Japan that I had started writing in Dallas, TX. We were there for two weeks and I fell in love with it, Tokyo especially. I've always been drawn to big cities and cities don't get bigger or brighter than Tokyo. The first few days I was completely engrossed by the people, the culture and the food – it's overwhelming. But by day four I began to realize that I was missing my familiar escapes.
How many times a day do you escape?
I escape conversations by taking out my phone. I escape my need to process the day by binge watching shows I've already seen. There are 100 different ways that I avoid facing myself and others throughout the day.
It took flying to the opposite side of the planet for me to realize what an escapist I am.
I was in a place where no one spoke anything close to a language I could understand. Every billboard and street sign was just brilliant white noise. I would take out my phone but I had no service. Even when I found wifi it was only to discover that Netflix and all of my other "go-to" escapes were in Japanese now. I had no other choice but to spend time alone with myself inside of my own mind and I realized there that my own thoughts and feelings were completely unfamiliar to me.
This is where I was when I wrote "Stranger". I had written one verse in Dallas before we left and been struggling to find a direction for the song ever since. Something was off inside and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it let alone communicate it in a song. It took this trip to force me to sit down with myself before I was able to find the lyrics and understand where the song was taking me. I think the song had an idea of what was going on inside of me before I even did, and over the next week or so it all came to the surface.
Months after the trip, Kate and I were driving home after having made our first record together in Nashville. I was listening to a podcast called "Who Writes This Stuff" hosted by my friend, Nick Flora. Nick would interview other songwriters on the podcast and on this episode he was interviewing Jeremy Casella, who happened to have produced the record we just made. Over the course of the conversation Jeremy said something that struck me in regards to creating great art.
"If it's going to be great you have to be honest with yourself. And if you're going to be honest with yourself that means you have to tell yourself the truth. And if you're going to tell yourself the truth that means you have to face yourself. No one wants to do that. Yet as an artist I feel like what I'm called to do is to turn around and face myself."
- Jeremy Casella - Who Writes This Stuff #60
The ability to face ourselves is an inescapable component for growth.
It's something that none of us can indefinitely escape – only postpone. Postpone it long enough and you will - like I did - find you're a stranger to yourself.
It nailed me for the first time in hearing this podcast that this is what I had gone through months earlier in Japan. I had been forced to face myself and hear the truth. It was something I hadn't had the strength or self-awareness to do before.
The best part about all of this? I was driving home from just having recorded this songand already had Nick scheduled to go into the studio and sing on a beautiful alternate version that Jeremy had produced. Life gives you very few moments like this where everything seems to align perfectly. It felt like God telling me "Yup, this song is right where it needs to be to do exactly what I meant for it to."
Ya... my God says "Yup".