vinceconaway: (Default)
I'm not good at openness, at sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings. I very much feel that it's my role in life to act as an inspiration, to encourage by example other people to reach far beyond what I'll ever manage. But there's a dark side as well.

A lot of what I share is built around the idea of "this is what it looks like to accomplish your dreams". I want my life to serve as a goad, giving permission to people who are questioning their own paths, but having reached my dreams brought problems as well; I was so used to striving that I didn't know what to do once the heights were attained.

It caused a pretty serious personal crisis, and it's only five years later on that I'm really open to showing my pain. It was 2011, and I had everything I ever wanted. My festival career was on a solid foundation, I had eight tours of Italy under my belt, and a good relationship to top it all off.

But I was miserable.

I had spent years building my life and I didn't know what to do with the edifice I'd created. I understood my basic problem so I set new goals for myself, but since they were artificial I didn't care enough to exert myself and then I had a failure on top of the previous dissatisfaction.

So I took a vacation.

Having achieved one dream, maybe it was time to find a new path. I loved traveling for work, but if I liked hobby travel better then maybe it was time to find a new career. And I knew where I had to go: Buenos Aires.

My great-grandfather had emigrated from Italy to BA, where my grandfather was born before the family moved back to Italy. When his children all went to the US, my great-grandfather retired to Argentina, where he is buried. Having spent significant time in Italy and with a visit to Ireland accomplished, Buenos Aires was the last significant family place I hadn't seen. The last entry on my bucket list.

And that was a part of it, as well. Maybe I wasn't done with my career, maybe I was done with living, and by going to Argentina I was giving myself permission to commit suicide. This wasn't ideation, I wasn't having fantasies or plotting methods, but acknowledging the possibility as a legitimate choice.

And so I went, and spent ten days wishing I'd brought a dulcimer; I enjoyed the trip, but wanted to be a busker. I realized that my career still had heights to ascend and side roads to explore. And I embraced my latest challenge: difficult music. I had spent much of the fall banging my head against an Elizabethan lute tune, Dowland's Lachrimae Pavane, and decided that such music was my new goal.

But it wasn't for several years that I took suicide off the table. As someone who sees his Purpose in setting an example to others, I realized that I would undermine everything I ever achieved, everything I ever wanted, if I pulled a trigger. Instead of acting as an Inspiration, I would become a Cautionary Tale, and anyone who might have been encouraged by my life would be, instead, warned away from bold choices.

I can't have that. I won't have that. And so I'm on this ride until something else brings it to an end.
vinceconaway: (Default)
So this is 39. I'm pleased so far.

My birthdays are introspective occasions. I like to go somewhere alone to brood and ponder years past and those to come, and this year I visited lovely Galveston. I was delighted to find it had all the pretty walks my heart could desire and I covered about 25 miles in two days, perfect for thinking.

This birthday was different from usual, though, with a much lighter feeling than most. 38 was a tumultuous year, but I really feel I've got a handle on who I am and what I want. This may, of course, mean that it's all about to change, but I'm feeling good about myself and my place in the universe.

My last night in Galveston I walked the beach as the tide went out. It's a habit of mine on the seashore, since I love being near water but not in it, and damp packed sand is very pleasant to walk on. It was windy, with white caps rolling in, and I wandered to the end of a fishing pier.

I kept going, onto the granite blocks of the breakwater, watching as wave after wave spent its energy in a haze of spray. Inevitably, a particularly large wave splashed me, head to toe, though not to the point of soaking. I basked in the chill of the wind hitting my wet clothes and face, licking the salt from my lips and glowing from the kiss and embrace of the sea.

Hello, 39. I love you too.
vinceconaway: (Default)
I feel I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life. My aptitudes, my temperament, and my opportunities have lined up to provide me a life that I could never have imagined on my own. And, in honor of this, I'm gradually etching into my skin the symbols of the Roman goddess Fortuna, patron of fate and luck.

The process started in late 2007, when I had a quote from Virgil inked onto my chest. Poetically translated, it's familiar as "Fortune favors the bold", but is more accurately rendered "Fortune helps the one who is bold". It was a reminder to dare, to stretch myself, and to continue taking the daily leap of faith that is a career in the arts.

I've been so in love with this tattoo that it took years for me to conceptualize a second. One of the attributes of Fortuna is the cornucopia, representing the abundance that is in her hands to give, and I used as my model a statue (albeit of Concordia) found in the ruins of Pompeii. My artist was a very good friend of mine, with whom I'm already discussing a third piece to be done when next we're in the same region.

I saw its shape and shading in a mirror last December and a little bit of selective googling filled in the details. It's a Roman coin of Fortuna, dedicated to her aspect protecting travelers: Fortuna Redux, luck of the return. Importantly, it includes depictions of two of her symbols while omitting the third. I've discussed the cornucopia already, but she's also often depicted as holding a rudder since she was the one to steer men's fates.

That third symbol will be, eventually, another tattoo. It's the most famous: the Wheel. We all take our turns in a life that involves highs and lows, but I'm waiting to hit a deep trough before I embrace the cycle. I'm flying high and I recognize that it can't last forever, but some day I'll need the reminder that the Wheel turns and that highs will come again.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Every day I give thanks for my opportunities, music, harmony*, health, good weather, strong profits, safe travels, and the beauty and love that surround me. Happy Thanksgiving!

* A semi-pun involving both musical and interpersonal relations
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I realized in September, 2001 that security and control were illusions and therefore not worth sacrificing my dreams. But I keep finding the desire for control seeping into my choices.

Not least among these is superstition. The idea that certain actions cause bad luck, and that their avoidance therefore brings better luck, is a classic coping mechanism for uncertainty. I find myself constantly scanning the world for clues to correct behavior, hints at a Universal plan, when my greatest strength is instead my willingness to accept a situation and flexibly maneuver within it, my ability to play the improv game of "yes, and" with my life.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I'm a musician, a professional performer, which is to say that I'm superstitious. I've misinterpreted the odd sign without losing faith, but one time stands out when I was convinced that the universe was telling me what to do and taking 180 degrees the wrong message from it.

I was out for a walk when I took the call. It's said that you should never make a promise when happy (or a decision when angry) and there I was, quite literally in my happy place: the seaside of Genoa's medieval Porto Antico.

She was breaking up with me, that much was clear. She needed "a break" after a lunatic month of breaking up, making up, and all the head games we'd come to play. But as I walked by the music store anchoring a converted warehouse I heard my sign: Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence.

"All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here in your arms."

And I promised fidelity, to wait for her, without listening to the next phrase, "Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm"

Exactly one week later I was dating someone else, which caused no end of heartbreak and headaches from my foolish promise. And I damn sure hadn't noticed the second verse:

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

The day was splendid, and I was in a park enjoying the picnic lunch I'd assembled at a grocery store. I shared the bench with a studying college-aged girl until she packed up her backpack, set it down, and walked off to make a call from a pay phone twenty feet away.


I'm kinda flattered, I must look trustworthy. Then again, if I wanted to kill someone, connecting an IED to a cell phone and calling from a convenient phone booth wouldn't be a bad method.

I wonder if I'm about to die. It's a beautiful day for it, and I've had a good run. I continue my lunch, not concerned enough to actually do anything, but briefly made aware of how truly beautiful life is.

And thankfully she was just a student, after all.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

It was 2011 and I was in line for customs inspection at Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport. As soon as I saw the X-ray machines I was glad to be traveling on vacation, rather than having to explain a few hundred CDs in my suitcase. Later, looking up the harsh Argentine import regulations, I was even more glad.

I wanted to come back and busk, but without CD sales the economics don't work. I was thinking on this mournfully while I was playing in Catania, Sicily one Wednesday evening in April 2013, when two CD sales saved an otherwise pointless evening of performance. The next day a cop told me that merchandise sale was prohibited.

Normally that's my exit cue: it's easier to pack up than fight the bureaucracy. But I've played every city within reasonable distance, and none held a candle to Catania. Plus, my hostel bed was prepaid through the weekend.

So I stayed. And I played. And I earned as much in tips alone as I'd expected to make in sales and tips together. Having just doubted this possibility, I took it as a sign to give Argentina a shot playing only for tips.

And so I'm here, and while I have enough money to cushion me should I crash and burn, things would get tight. And I take a leap of faith once again.


Mar. 18th, 2014 04:10 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I'm terrified every trip: months of contemplating worst case scenarios, hours spent second guessing. I love the planning and enjoy the execution, but the time in between is hell.

Thankfully, it all disappears once once I'm in motion, staying flexible, and reacting to events. And in those times, in this time, nothing feels more alive.

vinceconaway: (Default)

"What does success look like?"

It was an interesting conversation, and an excellent question. Happiness is a tricky beast, but success seems like it should be measurable. A friend of mine has long defined his success as driving a Porsche, and I am deeply impressed at his flexibility in refurbishing one from the 1980s to meet that standard. Another friend defines success in terms of a beautifully appointed house, and the third by the quality of her clothing, and their respective home and wardrobe reflect that.

I define my success through travel. I went on my first cruise as a four-year-old, tagged along with my parents to pick up my adopted sisters in El Salvador when I was seven, and grew up splitting holidays between northern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania. My mom always had a taste for what she called "adventures", when we would just pile into the car and head someplace we hadn't been before.

I think I complicated my relationship with my father when I dove headfirst into travel after my divorce, since his standard of success had always involved a stable home with travel being a bonus luxury. Once I began measuring myself along a different axis than his, he seemed confused about how to regard my career choices: when I was achieving his ideas of success using my own methods, things had been a lot easier for him.

Thankfully we've moved past that by now, and I think it's been much better for me. Too often, I feel, we set our standards by those of other people, or society at large, or base them on what we see on television. This sets us up either for failure to reach the impossible, or dissatisfaction once we reach a goal that never really called us.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

"Do you ever get homesick?"

I get that question every so often and I'm not sure how to answer it. One answer contradicts my lifestyle, and the other makes me feel insensitive. Plus there's the fact that I have several places I consider "home".

The short answer is no, I do not get homesick. I miss people, I miss places, and I have occasional culture shock, but nothing that feels like homesickness to me.

I do get occasional flashbacks to places I've been, and I have to concentrate for a moment to recognize the street my brain wants to send me down. Sometimes it's someplace interesting, like Rome, and other times it's Cincinnati. I'm never sure whether it's a sign of being well-traveled or a degenerative brain disorder resulting from all that travel, but I kind of like it even as it worries me.

As for homesickness, it's an interesting topic to think on, and I'm not sure whether it might change in the future. But, for now at least, I'm happily wandering on.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

My favorite part of what I do is the planning and decision-making that will affect future albums and tours. Even as I'm about to enter the studio, I'm looking ahead to the album to follow in 2016. Possessing a plane ticket to Argentina next spring, I'm looking ahead to Europe in October. And, in both of those cases, I'm strongly guided by everything I've done up to this point: how audiences have responded to Wanderlust, and which cities and busking styles have worked as a street performer.

I've read that experiences bring maximum pleasure when there is a long lead time of anticipation, followed by savoring the memories. I heartily agree.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

It was my 32nd birthday, and I was on a pilgrimage.

In ancient Rome, newly crowned emperors would travel to Praeneste and its temple of Fortuna in order to ensure a prosperous reign. After conversion to Christianity the temple was lost, but it was rediscovered when World War II bomb damage uncovered ruins beneath the medieval city of Palestrina. The temple was so extensive that it had become the core of the city, with the sanctuary transformed into a palace. I arrived on a wet and foggy morning, as early March can provide even in Mediterranean Italy, and I had the town practically to myself on my day trip from Rome. The temple museum was empty except for the guards huddled in the lobby, chatting and drinking espresso.

In most museums, European and American, guards are situated strategically to ensure that no one damages the exhibits. I was a harmless tourist, though, and found myself alone in a room with the ceremonial statue that personified Luck and Fate to ancient Romans, and whose name is tattooed on my chest.

I leaned in, kissed Fortuna on the cheek, and whispered "grazie" in her ear.


Oct. 20th, 2013 04:44 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

The key with my exes is not only to forgive the wrongs they did me, but to forgive myself for the wrongs I did them.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I have been extraordinarily lucky. From the parents I was blessed with, in the nation of my birth, with the color of my skin, to my gender and my sex and my sexual orientation, I started at the top of the heap. But even beyond this I'm lucky to have a calling, and it's a calling that can feed me.

I won't understate the thousands of hours of practice, the sacrifices, or the leaps of faith I've made. But, fundamentally, I want to spend my life doing something that it's possible to spend my life doing. This is extraordinarily rare, and I get too much credit for it.

I have a lot of friends who are not so lucky. They don't have an overriding vision for their lives, an all-encompassing purpose. And so they make choices and compromises, just as I have, but with less glamor and fewer accolades.

They take a job that may not fulfill them, but which supports them and doesn't take too much from them emotionally. And they build a life from there in the SCA, at the Ren Faire, doing cosplay, active in community theater, and/or raising a family. And from these things come their fulfillment and happiness.

That's the goal, happiness, and there's no clearer purpose in life. Money, reputation, and legacy only have meaning to the extent that they make you happy. When my nieces ask why I make half as much in music as my engineering training warrants, that's my answer. As it should be for anyone who's ever voluntarily gone part time, declined a promotion, or worked "beneath their potential".

It's as courageous a choice as any I've ever made.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

In Italy I'm closer to my ideal self because I leave myself no other option. It's one reason I come here.

My anxiety is beaten into submission by the sheer volume of things to fear. My tendency to invent contingency plans for worst-case scenarios is overwhelmed, and I reach a point of acceptance. And this keeps me flexible, adaptable. I have to pivot in the moment, trusting my own snap judgment. Deciding that getting in trouble in tolerant Padua gave me a karmic pass to play in strict Venice, for example. Believing in myself.

In Italy I'm assertive because the language itself demands it: diffidence is an accent that can make conversation difficult. I love the side of myself that this frees, the side that sells a CD to a passerby in Reggio Emilia even as I pack up under a cop's watchful gaze after being busted for selling CDs.

And, having taken the leap of faith to come at all, I'm forced to keep taking them. I had faith that the tour will break even, so if a weekend in Genoa gets rained out I must have faith that the shortfall will be made up. Beyond having no room for anxiety about choices made, I have to keep making such choices to push through to the end of the tour.

And the resulting Vince is someone I really respect.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I don't think I've mentioned the turn of events that led to this first fall your of Italy. As I mentioned earlier I'm inclined to see and follow various signs and portents in my life. I was in negotiations to perform for most of October, but none of them came to fruition. I decided that the universe had bidden me to do something epic, since the responsible option had been denied me, especially since my Argentina tour next spring will delay my return to Italy.I'm a fan of failing forward, in general. When something doesn't work I try and go ahead to something else rather than retreating. I've been lucky, as in much else, and so far it's worked out well for me. My hopes are high that this tour will be similar!

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

Thursday's busking went well, which I'm taking as a sign that I'm supposed to be here, that I correctly interpreted the earlier portents. Friday was lackluster and Saturday morning rained out, which I took as a sign not to take Genoa for granted. I'd been considering it a "safe" choice to begin and end the tour, giving a single city 40% of my time. After I decided to risk a finale in Bologna, a much less familiar city for busking, the weather cleared for an exceptional evening set, which I took as a sign confirming my choice.

And this sums up fairly neatly how I make most of my decisions.

vinceconaway: (Default)

"Without my music to give shape to the day, I didn't meet as many people as I otherwise might have. I didn't see places in the light I otherwise could have. And I felt at total loose ends."

Poetic, if I do say so myself, but unspecific. When I am busking, music gives me a schedule: there are good days to busk and good times to do it. I only have so much attention span, so I focus on those days and times I can be most productive. This shapes everything else as I travel, and without that schedule I feel like a bored child at the beginning of summer vacation.

When I am a performer, it gives me a role that "tourist" does not. This is both an internal change and an external one, and I typically refer to cities where I have performed as "mine". Walking through New Orleans' Jackson Square at 10:30 am, instrument in hand, gets a very specific reaction from other people who are headed to work at restaurants, art galleries, and tarot tables: "you're one of us". And, having done it, it's always a part of me.

Am I a local? Of course not: a core part of my identity is that I'm local to nowhere and equally out of place everywhere. But I'm part of the local fabric, even years later, in a way I otherwise couldn't be.

Most importantly, my job is to make people happy and there is nothing on earth like having that as a profession; I'm always thrilled to see a barista, waiter, or receptionist who obviously agrees. Sure, the dollars, euros, kuna, and pesos are vital but they all start with a human connection. And when I travel without it I notice the lack.

vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I was tired and unsure. It was 2011, and I had reached all of my major career goals. Was it time to move on to something else?

I devised a test: since travel is my greatest pleasure, I would see how much I enjoyed pure tourism rather than touring a performance. I went to Buenos Aires for ten days, exploring the city and meeting its people.

I missed my dulcimer every damn day.

Without my music to give shape to the day, I didn't meet as many people as I otherwise might have. I didn't see places in the light I otherwise could have. And I felt at total loose ends.

In response, I talked to buskers, scouted locations, did my homework. I recommitted to my chosen profession, doubling down. And I'm going back to Argentina next spring, instrument in hand, to try the waters for myself.

August 2017

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