Wednesday, December 16, 2020

My dad and Taylor Swift

My dad and Taylor Swift would have been fast friends.  

Sure, my dad was more fond of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, and Charlie Pride flowing from the dash of his old Ford pickup truck, but lately I’ve noticed something about Taylor Swift I think my dad would have liked.

Dad was a teacher at our district vocational school for most of my life at home.  This meant that when I got home from school every day, so did my dad.  When I had a school holiday or a snow/ice day, so did my dad.  When I was out for summer vacation, so was my dad.  My dad was also a work-a-holic.  This meant that when he wasn’t working at school, he was working in his metal fabrication business in our backyard.  This should be simple addition for you but let me go ahead and provide you the sum: this equaled no afternoons or days off for me.  When my school friends were sleeping until noon on a day off, my dad was opening my bedroom door and telling me to get my lazy butt up out of bed at 9:00 am.  When I dared to ask why, the response was always “We’ve got work to do!”.  Summer vacation?  More like my dad’s “Summer Work At Home” program.  

I, of course, felt some teenage angst about this.  I was jealous of my friends who sat at home all day playing video games.  I didn’t understand what a work ethic was at the time and how important it would be later on in my life.  

This year has been a different life experience for all of us.  In addition to not being allowed to go out and do most of the things we enjoy, we were also dealing with a pretty scary viral situation, some civil unrest, terrible politics, and many of us were asked to work from home.  So while we were scared and likely dismayed, we were also tempted to sleep too late, eat too much, stay in our pajamas too long, and watch way too much TV.  

I understand that there is no wrong way to deal with a year like this one.  I mean, as long as it’s legal and you’re not hurting anyone anyway.  If you slept, ate, pajama-ed all day, watched everything available on Netflix, and survived with your sanity and sobriety then good for you!  Be proud of that.  If you dealt with 2020 by throwing yourself into your work, then good for you too!  

Recently we’ve all discovered what our friend Taylor Swift was up to this year.  Even in quarantine, there’s little chance you missed that Swift managed to write, record, and release a whole new album back in July.  Her album Folklore was recorded in her home with some long-distance help from friends.  Far from a collection of songs about boredom or how cute her cats are, this album reached across musical genres and allowed Swift to stretch her talents into writing from outside of her own stories.  Her recent Grammy nominations seem to support my praise of her work.  She may have also just won Songwriter of the Year at the Apple Music Awards.

It may be difficult for most of us to sympathize with professional touring musicians during this year.  It’s important to realize that much of the income for professional musicians comes from touring, something that has not been allowed since early last spring.  Swift was never allowed to tour for her Lover album and there would definitely be no tour for Folklore.  I know we’re not worried about Swift financially, but what about professional performers who are not allowed to perform?  Performers live for an audience.  I can’t imagine not being allowed to do something that I love for an extended period of time.  For a performer like Swift, this year interrupted every normal thing about her life.  She was always busy doing the next thing, making an album, planning a tour, directing videos, learning choreography, planning the fashion for her next season.  We’re talking about early mornings and late nights.  Workouts, meetings, phone calls, and perhaps a very well planned out personal life.  Now imagine that same person being told they were not allowed to do any of those things and they needed to stay at home for an indefinite period of time.  

Talk about an excuse.  Now there’s a person who could wallow, eat ice cream out of the container, and keep Netflix in business.  But instead of doing the easy thing, it seems that Swift pretty quickly went about figuring out how she could work and be creative under the conditions she was given.  And figure it out she did, with the July album release of Folklore, a Disney Plus feature to follow in the fall, and then last week, an entirely new album release.  Her 9th studio album, Evermore, is still very new in my music rotation, but seems to be just as good if not better than Folklore.  

Was Taylor Swift living in the same year as the rest of us?  How does a person manage to be so productive?  Swift indicated in an interview this week that after about 3 days of quarantine she knew she needed to work.  I can almost see her opening the virtual bedroom doors of Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, and Justin Vernon and saying “We’ve got work to do!”.

I was lucky to have the time and opportunity to make a lot of new work this year.  Certainly as a response to my conditions, the drawings have been flowing and I think I have somewhere over 20 new ones since January.  Thanks to my dad, now when I sit still for more than 5 minutes, I get the itch to go and do something.  Maybe this explains the Art-Remix every day, the Quarantunes With Violet every day, and staying up late each night drawing.  While this is super-annoying to the people who have to live with me, it has helped me to have a productive year instead of a lazy one.  That’s not to say I haven’t had my lazy moments.  I don’t mind telling you that I’ve gone into my sculpture studio on a cold rainy day, looked outside and proclaimed, “I can’t be expected to work in these conditions!” before walking out.  But because my dad instilled a strong work ethic in me, now when I need to rest and I take a couple of hours to watch an old Hitchcock movie (or a couple of episodes of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix) I get up afterwards and feel the need to go finish that drawing that’s been on my table for a month.  

If my dad had met Taylor Swift they would have laughed a lot together.  Maybe they would have written a song together or more likely, maybe my dad would have taught her how to weld.  What is certain is that they both would have told me to get my lazy butt up because we had work to do. 


Maybe you have some work to do too.  Maybe you can find a way to be productive today.  If so, my dad would be proud.  

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