Monday, December 07, 2009

Valley of the Shadow

“They say the goodness in life comes to people who believe…so I believe..”
- Mos Def

As always it’s been a minute since I had the time to update this blog. Thanks for sticking in there with me. It seems like every time I do write there have been some tectonic shifts in my life and career. Things are moving pretty fast, and at the same time pretty slow. That statement might not make a lot of sense so let me explain.

In July of this year I was told that my radio show, State of the Re:Union was going to be funded. Huge development. Problem is, the funding was coming from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB has been great and the people who work there have had so much faith in me and my vision, it’s been amazing. All that being said, CPB is a big ship, and big ships move slowly. From July to November we struggled to work of the details of a grant that would fund the show for a year, as well as set up the frame work for us to receive funding for two more years. The grant that CPB has given the show is substantial, and that’s great but there are a bunch of hoops that need to be jumped through in order to make it happen.

I sit here writing this now, a little shocked that it all worked out. There were months where I didn’t think it was going to happen, times when I had so much going on, juggling so many balls in the air, that I wonder what good was it all? Saying July to November makes it seems so insignificant, but it was huge because it wasn’t just those months. It was the culmination of the development year for the show. Prior to getting our current funding CPB gave us funding develop the show. This was tricky because it was a great opportunity, but I’ve never developed a public radio show before. To be honest, I learned a lot from the year I was in the contest which won me the opportunity to have a show in the first place, but that was like going to Elementary and suddenly being told that you were being promoted to college. My business partner Ian and I had to fight, learn, think, rethink, mold, burn, build, and start all over again to get us on the right footing. We have some great advisors, smart people who guided us into the right territories, but the work had to be done by the two of us. Of course we hired smart people to help, but at the end of the day, Ian and I were on the line.

It’s been a good experience and I wouldn’t change any of it, it all made me stronger but it was extremely tough. On top of all of that, in August I was performing my solo show at the Abingdon Theatre, and at the same time performing for the Lincoln Center with my boys Griot 3, (I mean literally at the same time, I had a show at the Abingdon, then left to perform at Lincoln center, then returned to the Abingdon for another performance). All this, and I was writing a new play “Crumbs” which debut in November and recording the final vocals for the Des Moines episode of State of the Re:Union. It was a nonstop grind. I’d stacked all these events together because that’s how you pay the bills as an artist. You line up as many gigs as you can in the hopes that one of them is going to be the one that pays the bills, or maybe little bits from all of them will pay it off. There were many nights when I laid in the bed after working 16 hour days (having no days off for three months straight) and wondered why I was putting myself through all of this. When stories broke down, when people didn’t live up to their expectations, when money ran out, when everything fell apart.

Two nights after “Crumbs” had opened in November, I could feel the weight of it all in my bones. I was working the play at night (every night) working the radio stuff during the day (every day) my bank account was negative 350.00 because I hadn’t had a paycheck since August. All my bills were behind, and if it weren’t for the kindness of some incredible friends I don’t know how me or my family would have eaten. I hadn’t seen my family in what seemed like months because I was working so many long hours. That night, it just all seemed too much and I just let go. Tears streaming down the sides of my face my body shook with the force of the emotion. I felt utterly lost, and alone. It seemed like everything I’d been working for was not working for me. I thought, God if you want to take me, now would be a good time. I went to sleep, praying I would wake up renewed. But when I woke up I felt like I was in a deep pit, and the only light I could see was above me, a mile away in the distance. That morning, I sat on the edge of my bed for a half hour, just wanting to curl up in a ball and quit. I thought back on this journey I’ve been on. The wins, the losses, the belief that so many people have in me. The sacrifices I’ve had to make financially and personally, all of it, and I stood up, and took a step, and kept moving from there.

If this was a Hollywood story, that day would be a turning point where everything got better. But it didn’t for two more weeks I had to struggle, feeling like I was falling apart every couple minutes, reassessing, regrouping and marching on until finally I’d climbed out of that pit and felt the sun on my face. I don’t proclaim to have done it myself. I have a great team & family; a support network that would prop me up when I wanted to quit, and every step of the way I felt the presence of God pushing me forward. It’s funny, when I hear people reference God speaking to them they tend to use bible verses, and sometimes when I feel like God is telling me something I do hear verses, (usually when I’m doing something wrong) but mostly when I need it, my God sends me something more accessible to me. He comes in the voice of movie scenes, hip-hop songs, but for this time in my life he sung to me in Bono’s voice “It’s not a hill it’s a mountain, as you start out the climb, do you believe me our you doubt it? But we’re going to make it all the way to the light”

Today, I’m in the light. Our show State of the Re:Union, has been funded, I’ve got a paycheck, my solo show Summer in Sanctuary is being considered for an off Broadway run by a really excellent theatre in NYC, Crumbs was a success, still much work to do on the script, but it’s a great start, things are lining up well. When I talk to people and they ask for advise about how to make it doing what you love I always wonder if they are ready for the heartbreak that happens on the way to your goal? I know I will face these valleys again, hell, it’s probably right around the corner. But the fact that I got through this one is going to help me get though the next.


Johnathan "Robbie" said...

From one friend to another, I believe in you man. Confucius probably really did say something that would be appropriate here but big and fancy words mean nothing unless the words surrounding them are filled with as much heart. So in relative terms, break a leg brother.

Anonymous said...

Wow. All I can say is, wow. I've been in that very pit, and even when I didn't believe in him anymore, God pulled me right up out of it. I can relate to everything you've written here today. Your writing is so honest that it feels like I'm reading a letter from a personal friend. God too, speaks to me in bible verses (when I'm doing something I know I shouldn't be doing), but he also secular music to get through to me at times. I'm so sorry you had to go through such hard times and grief. I think you know though, how strong you are, every victory just adds to that strength. The Lord bless you Al.