She took my picture, and the sun, she said, was perfect.
I'd asked her for pictures to use with my music. Music I'd been writing with such voracity it was as though I hadn't had a chance to speak my entire life. Music that while every bit a part of me, also seemed to live outside of me as songs arrived, pounding on my brain, leaving me collapsed in bed with my guitar and a scattering of paper.
She took my picture as I sat on a stoop next to a church. I wrapped a red scarf around my neck, and an older man walked toward us. He wore a navy jacket, a knitted cap, and he didn't say a word, but he handed me a rosary, gestured for me to wear it, and asked to take my picture. Afterward, he showed me the picture on his camera, pointed to it, and said, see?
I didn't understand what he wanted me to see, and as he walked away, I just laughed and said that was so weird.
Six months later, I called a cab to drive me the half mile between my place and the subway. I was running late and stressed, but the driver was relentlessly happy. He told me about coming to America, about always wanting to run a restaurant, about doing that for twenty years, about stopping when he no longer enjoyed it, and about moving on to something new. I told him how I just wanted to write country music, how I thought people in New York didn't appreciate that as much as elsewhere in America, and he asked if I ever considered moving south. Every day, I told him. Even if I fail, at least I would have tried.
No, he said. It's only failing if you don't try.
His words echoed in me until three months later, I found myself in Nashville.
But when I got there, I didn't feel connected to my music at all. All I felt was this uncomfortable pressure. Maybe it was just the hundred degree humid heat or the squeeze of the bible belt, but whatever it was, it drove me to choose yoga studios over honky tonks, and on that trip, in the heat, the pounding shifted in my head. It shifted from music to something new, and I left Nashville intent to try to give others what yoga and meditation have given me - a greater sense of wonder, a greater sense of myself, and a greater sense of everyone and everything else.
The night I returned from Nashville, a package was waiting for me. A package sent by a friend I hadn't seen or spoken to in ten years, and inside the package was a book.
The book was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, an author I'd always kind of for no good reason didn't want to read, but this act of spontaneous generosity moved me to start reading, and it was exactly what I needed.
The book told of creative projects that arrived, like my music, from a seemingly external source, and it described how creative ideas move through us like water, how we can let them grow by both honoring them and not taking them too seriously, trusting that they'll do whatever they're going to do for their own benefit and for ours. So maybe it was okay. Maybe it was okay to write music voraciously for a year and to now do something else. Maybe I was succeeding by simply trying to follow whatever pounded on my head, wherever it led, without too much concern for where I was going.
After Big Magic, I wanted more Elizabeth Gilbert, so I picked up Eat Pray Love. I opened the book, and there it was on the first page, in the first paragraph, in the first sentence: "When you're traveling in India - especially through holy sites and Ashrams - you see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks...When the medieval Crusaders drove East for the holy wars, they witnessed worshippers praying with these japa malas, admired the technique and brought the idea home to Europe as a rosary."
That's when I remembered the pictures from nearly one year earlier. The pictures I'd taken for my music and then those seemingly random ones from when that old man asked me to wear a rosary.