A songwriter up in Canada sent me a note today asking to see a picture I’d posted on Instagram over three years ago. It turns out he had used a portion of the caption as a line in a song. This is the sort of fragmentary interconnectedness that gives me joy in the face of all the digitized heartlessness surrounding us.
I met the songwriter once, in a Minneapolis coffee shop. He was playing in support of another musician of my acquaintance, and she felt we might hit it off. Indeed we did. Making a living via keyboard or fretboard is not “hard” by the physical standards set by my rural Wisconsin youth or your average underwater welder, but as with any boutique hustle — be it running your own repair shop or your own dance studio — chances to talk shop with someone who understands it’s not all dreams and musing are few and far between. Even artists like to discuss per diems and standard business mileage rates.
Over time the songwriter and I have maintained an intermittent correspondence, often in the wee hours, when we message each other about working at our profession when our families are abed, or home while we are on the road. I find it interesting that we don’t call each other. It’s almost as if we wouldn’t know what to say on the phone, whereas we’re well used to sending words blindly out into the world.
On some level our relationship is easier too in that we are both married with children and happy to be so. We are hooked on our work deeply enough to stick with it even when other vocations might float a better boat beneath us, and yet rather than wild riders at the gates of dawn blasting through society’s norms we are in the end dads with responsibilities. This too gives us something to talk about.
There is this intangible thing I am ever more grateful for daily: The sense that quiet, solid people are daily at their quiet, solid work. To drive our country road having just switched off the national news and see that the guy with the sawmill is making boards but — as it says on the spray-painted slab — is available by appointment only. That the woman who delivers our mail is making her rounds, delivering not only our correspondence but our business ... and our ballots. That the county maintenance crew rose early and cleared the windstorm debris from the road.
I need not see these people in action to appreciate their presence. The songwriter, for instance: It is nice for me to type a message in a virtual bottle and drop it in the internet stream and know that in his tiny backyard studio up there in Canada he may or may not hear the ping, but he will respond in time, and whatever the distance, we are working beside each other in spirit. Not nosing in, not telling each other how to do our jobs, but now and then giving a nod. Sometimes we marvel at how the world could be.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.
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