Exhausted and smiling (or the sneaky thing about your life's work)
April 23, 2018
Technically speaking, I worked all weekend.
I was at The Sugar Shack recording studio at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to set up and start recording an album by singer/songwriter Phil Glennie. The record features some really great songs and equally great musicians, including guitarist Paul Aitken and bassist Steve Clark – fabulous players both and the very definition of professional. Man, is it fun to watch those guys tackle these songs. What an education. With Simon Larochette manning the controls and David Janzen (aka Local Haunts) acting as musical director, it’s a supremely talented group. Quite how I wound up in such esteemed company is … well, what do I always say? Good things happen when you put yourself out there.
Anyway, Saturday was a long afternoon of tracking drum and bass parts. The songs were roughly sketched out going in, but there was a lot of writing and arranging on the fly. It’s a pile of fun, but it’s also a challenge experimenting with new ideas, learning different parts, listening to each other, and then trying to lay down good takes. It requires a lot of mental energy and physical stamina. We tracked for the better part of six hours, finishing the rhythm section parts for five songs. Not a bad day’s output.
From the studio I went home for about two hours to eat, change, and load up my drums for a gig with Carly Thomas. It’s not easy to get your energy back up after a day like that in the studio, but when you remember where you’re going and who you’re playing with, the tank begins to fill. No complaints here. I drove to the venue, carried all of my gear in, and set it up, and then we did sound check under the unpleasant cloud of the Toronto Maple Leafs winning a playoff game. The horror! After all that it was, as ever, hurry up and wait for the show to start. Then it was three sets of music - roughly three hours on stage - and then pack all the gear up, carry it to the car, and take it home. Again, technically speaking, my work day started at 10:00 a.m. and ended some time around 2:00 a.m. That’s a solid 16-hour day.
Then it was back to the studio for more recording on Sunday starting at noon.
It was another eight hours of tracking. There were four more songs, a couple of which we wound up changing substantially from the initial arrangements. Again, a fun creative process, but mentally tiring. Fortunately, I was working with real pros. Everyone was cheerful. Everyone was up for it. Everyone laughed. Everyone had ideas, but nobody was married to those ideas. We were all committed to serving Phil’s songs to the very best of our ability, and we put down some really exciting stuff. But again, another eight hours in the hot seat.
By the time I got home that night, I was cooked. After a much-needed dinner I relaxed for a little while and then went to bed, totally exhausted but with a smile on my face.
And that’s what this is really about. That’s where the “technically” part comes in. You see, I worked all weekend – and it really is work – but it doesn’t feel like I worked all weekend. There’s a difference between fatigue and that special kind of tired that comes with giving everything you’ve got to something you love. That’s why it was bed with a smile on my face. That’s the feeling I’m chasing. That’s the feeling you get when you know you’re doing what you really want to do and it’s worth every drop of effort you can give to it.
So my message on this magnificently beautiful Monday is to think about what sends you to bed exhausted with a smile on your face. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, there’s a massive clue in that feeling. What does it for you? What can you do all day that’s work but doesn’t feel like work? That’s what you should be looking at. That’s what you should be pursuing. Build your life around those things as much as you can. There’s no better feeling in the world, and no greater affirmation of purpose. That’s the sneaky thing about your life’s work.
It often doesn’t feel like work at all.