Look close and you can see it: a white discoloration on my middle finger. It’s small, the length of a stamp. It’s thin, a pale slash along the first joint. It’s a scar that’s easy for anyone else to miss.
One year ago, that hand was in a cast.
I tell people I injured it in a Bangkok opium den, throwing knives with Keith Richards. Really, I fell down hardwood stairs wearing fuzzy socks. I held a plate, and the plate held a ramekin of ranch dressing. When I tried to catch myself, the plate carved up my hand.
I ruined a stack of dishtowels trying to stop the bleeding. Once it slowed, I surveyed the scene: a room zebra-striped by blood and ranch. I took a picture and sent it to my brother: “Looks like a murder scene at Zaxby’s.”
(He wasn’t amused.)
The doctor confirmed what I already knew: I severed a nerve. There were cuts and bruises all over the left side of my body. I was covered in things that looked worse than they were. Scars in utero. But the slash on my finger was different: small, deep, angled. It was easy to miss, but it did the most damage.
I could move the finger a little; I couldn’t feel it at all.
They tell me nerves are slow. A glacial recovery defined the months that followed: first, I couldn’t use my hand; then the hand but not my middle finger; then an adjustment to numbness; finally, feeling. One millimeter at a time.
I spent much of 2018 unable to play my guitar; I spent the rest re-learning. To say the very least, it was a shock to the system.
But now I see it as a gift–a gift that taught me indelible lessons for 2019 and beyond:
1. At my core, I’m a songwriter. Even when I couldn’t play songs, I couldn’t stop writing them. Voice memos of stray melodies piled up by the dozen. Pet lines and phrases stored in the world’s longest Google doc. For the first time, I craved collaboration. Other artists let me listen to unfinished songs and take a crack. A mass of ideas saved for posterity lined up three at a time to be written. Then finished. Then sung.
It’s my life’s passion. I can’t turn it off.
2. The joy of exploration. Years honing a craft left me rigid and blinkered. I sang, played, wrote, and performed in a specific way that took a long time to develop.
But without a (useful) middle finger, I learned different styles of fingerpicking. When I was frustrated with guitar, I found a keyboard to bang on. And reader: I sucked.
I was a kid again, fumbling over his instrument, failing to make his hands do what his head heard. I failed, then I failed again. I failed privately, but relentlessly, and spectacularly. It was great. Each day an exercise in trusting my experience, then exploring like a child.
3. Fuzzy socks got to go. RIP.
What I’m trying to say is this: failure is just an opportunity to learn. Every setback taught me something invaluable. One slip led me in countless new directions. I haven’t lost since.
In that spirit, new things will define this year. I’ll tour, but differently. I’ll play Memphis, but intentionally. Every concert with the promise that the experience will offer something new to you and to me.
2019 will be marked by more musical collaboration. I’m also creating new projects ancillary to music. Look for more videos this year. Occasionally, I’ll share non-music writing. I’m currently building my own app. This spring, a podcast!
Of course, new songs. Songs, songs, always more songs. I’ll post a demo every month, a little window into whatever I’m working on that moment. And late this year, a new album on the way.
Meanwhile, my hand’s still not 100%, but it’s getting there. They tell me nerves are slow. My finger was once a bloody mess; then a long, purple incision; now pale line, always a little smaller. Another scar of many, another lesson to remember. Look close and you can see it.
I hope it never goes away.