“My Optimism Wears Heavy Boots”

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*Title Chosen by the Editor

By Matthew Koerner

Tonight I sleep in Chicago; yesterday I was in Detroit, the day before I was in Cleveland. In my evenings I caper about stages, leaping and strumming a guitar violently. It’s wild to think that one year prior I’d be dreading another day at work as a substitute teacher in the once bucolic Hillsborough, NJ. Two years ago would be the same, subtract the dread.

The dread fueled my transformation, I’m grateful for it.

I remember the monotony two years ago, the routine went something like this: Wake up, groom and go to work in my tour van. A misused vehicle existing in duality as a shadow of an idyllic past and glimpse at a potential future. Arrive at school where I teach some lessons with only a paltry break during the day where I eat bad food, before rushing back to work. In the evening, I come home, wolf down dinner, play some guitar and watch movies and advertisements until I awake and repeat the process. I’m granted a reprieve from this during the weekend where it’s encouraged to drink with my peers until we numb the pain of ambition.

This is a common life but far from the one I set out towards. Luckily for me I snapped out of this stasis and realized how unsustainable my happiness was in this kind of lifestyle.

I worked this job during an interim period in my life. I was a recent college graduate and in between musical projects. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to play music. My non-musical stasis was a temporary state I told myself as I began my career as an educator. I never went to school to be a teacher, yet here I was dissecting lessons for pupils and obtaining educational certifications. I’m still unsure what factors led me to become a substitute teacher but I think the freedom to tour was a factor in the decision.

The idea of becoming a history teacher was an afterthought, a backup plan. I now see the error in having a more developed backup plan than figuring out the logistical demands for your main desire, but at the time I thought that I had to have a sure thing set up before undertaking what I really wanted to do. This is a lazy, insecure, unconfident school of thought pervasive amongst the collegiate bound suburban youth I was surrounded with throughout my boyhood.

During this transitional time in my life I technically had a band, but we lacked a full lineup and didn’t play shows as a result. We had some recordings but beyond that there was no outward indication that we were a band. The drummer was the hold up. I knew that I wanted the right drummer, someone who was talented, committed, affable and another half dozen qualifiers. Sometimes major changes can be scary. So often do I find myself submitting to these perfectionist tendencies that only succeed in holding me back, imprisoning me inside a cocoon of stagnation.

Waiting is poison for the soul.

Like any cancer it spreads through the body, growing until the desire to do whatever activity in the first place is gone, unrecognizable in a sea of mediocrity. Eventually I did find the right drummer but before that I had to wade through a plethora of drummers ranging in permanence. The process was long but in order to get started, we eventually just grabbed someone and decided to start playing shows and things progressed from that point.

My father has always told me how life is filled with upward and downward spirals. Good habits, actions and traits begat better habits, actions and traits. The inversion is true as well. In my experience I’ve seen this most overtly with food. Eating healthy nourishing food gives me energy and keeps me from getting sick. I find my mental state is far more positive when I’m eating healthily. The enormous weights of adolescence are lessened and in their place exists newfound levity.

All these things can upward spiral to a more positive lifestyle. Feeling happier and healthier leads to becoming more social and meeting new people, having new discoveries and adventures, or perhaps simply gaining a new perspective on life from your greater exposure. Conversely malnutrition will make you unhealthy which will cost you money in healthcare, and sap your energy leading to a more depressive state. This can further spiral downwards until a change is made. It’s their gradual nature that allows these subtle miseries to envelop us. It’d be great to analyze life in a fashion akin to a chess game, always thinking a few moves down the way. Life however has too many simultaneous games going on to keep track of all of them.

This is how my own subtle misery of working a job I didn’t care about took hold of me for a while.

I didn’t hate the job or even dislike it much. I studied history in college and loved the opportunity to talk about it when I was given the chance. Likewise, English and science were classes I enjoyed teaching. There are opportunities to have fun as a substitute teacher: One day you could play dodge ball, the next you could be teaching music. Nonetheless, I don’t really want to be a teacher at this juncture in my life. There isn’t anything I find terribly bad about the job (outside of the hours and lessening autonomy) but the sheer reality that I want to do something else calls me away from the profession.

I desired to be a touring musician among many other things I feel I’m more suited for and I only began to detest teaching when I realized I wasn’t on tour.

The best way to change your life is to just start making changes. Figure it out along the way. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, they never will be. Before you can do any of this, you first must recognize that you want a change. If your life isn’t that bad, it could still be better.

I type this from the back of a seven passenger van pulling a trailer loaded with guitars and dreams. I’m in the midst of a multi month tour, playing punk rock every night. I am a touring musician, living out my dream but this isn’t the perfect tour.

My sister’s birthday was yesterday. I’ve never missed that before.

All my best friends commiserated back home in New Jersey while I’m somewhere in the Midwest. I think relationships have ended due to my pursuit of this goal. Friendships definitely have. I’ve sacrificed living in my own apartment and I’ve delayed opportunities in other careers. Every weekend for over a year now has been spent playing shows and the weekdays are filled with writing, practicing and demoing. I don’t lament this, I cherish it. This singularity of mind gives me focus and has been my driving force down this path in music since I set out on it. Becoming somewhat one dimensional is why I’m in the van. Tomorrow I will be in St. Louis. From there I’ll traverse to Denver, then Salt Lake City, before California and the Pacific.

In a month I’ll be back in New Jersey writing songs and awaiting the next tour, but tonight I sleep in Chicago.

Matthew J. Koerner is a musician, historian, and writer from Hillsborough, New Jersey. He plays in a band called Feeny.

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