Now introducing Mason Stoutamire, a writer and student in California who is using Finals as a personal journal that involves music. Get ready to step into a world. Thanks Mason!
Since November of last year, I made $19,000.
And I gave most of it right away.
I divided the bit I kept between two things: food and music.
I was parked in front of the local Italian restaurant when my friend stood in front of my headlights. He could’ve texted me after he parked a few spots away but he chose to physically make himself known in my sight. He’s always been silly like that but that’s why we’re friends. I ordered the veal with a side of work gossip and camaraderie. Two bites in, I stood between it all. Just months ago, I hated Italian food and yet here I was, eating past 10pm with work the following morning and I could recognize Andrea Bocelli on the speakers.
I focused on my plate and recounted how, exactly, I became so comfortable with so much change in the past year.
I’m only a bit better than I was yesterday. Words come easier to me but leading to graduation, time is the only obstacle that stands between the life I want and the life I’m employed to live.
There’s not enough time for everything I want to do. It’s a daily economy. That said, my priorities are relatively unchanged.
If time is money, notwithstanding, music’s my strip club of a vice. Here’s to marrying life’s drama with music instead of practical solutions.
The world is harmonious at some points while discourteous in others. Things crash, schedules misalign, and some pieces fall apart entirely.
But crashing and articulate measures have their own unique beauty to them — they’re real and lived-in. Music that mirrors life in this way is chewed up, spit out, and served in the glimmer that it’s got.
And Arthur Russell’s “World of Echo” has that special shine. From the muddled pulses of “being It” to the empty pop number, “Happy Ending,” there’s plenty of life to be found in the barren musical canvas. Between April and July, all I could do was appreciate the album’s cello for the way it colored my life at the time — impressively articulate in a vacuum.
The conversations between what I could afford to feel across 24 hours and what I needed to do next happened inside a 3-ton vacuum that carried me around 140 miles each day.
6 a.m.: 37 miles south from Long Beach
7 a.m.: 16 miles north to Irvine
3 p.m.: 16 miles south to Laguna Niguel, 37 miles north thereafter to Long Beach
4:30 p.m.: 27 miles south to Irvine
By 1 a.m., my car and I had little to discuss on the way home. My masks were always melted by then and I was between the hardware and the music. One night, all I could hear was whirring: whirring engines, whirring horns, whirring voices. I felt the emptiness of inadequacy. The pressures became one giant, whirring against my ears.
Even the brushes of my shallow breath took their own volume. It hardly mattered what was playing on my stereo but that night, “World of Echo” honored my deflated pride for what it was worth on the empty highway.
This spring, I quit my restaurant job and I began using my skills as a writer to sustain myself. Being a writer has jokingly become something tied to an imposter syndrome that perpetuates itself time and time again. It’s like me telling you that my ideas deserve to be honored before the fact instead of after. It’s like me telling you that I can sing well but only after I see the check. But I’ve never felt as much pride as when I started really considering my skills valuable. Sure, my skills are marketable in America, but I think my skills are impressive, market aside. When I put my two weeks in at the restaurant, a friend lovingly asked if I had anything else lined up.
“Don’t you worry about that part, I’ll be alright.” I replied quickly.
I started thinking about Outkast. When I was younger, I always looked to Outkast to help me reach beyond what was normal and embrace what was familiar. I remembered “Git Up, Git Out” off of “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” being the grind-anthem for 16 year-old me, a bum. I chased my college dream like Ant and Rashad wiped those windows in the ATL montage. Similarly, I was getting out and getting what was mine.
Working is ingrained in American culture but especially in Southern California. My friend asking about my “exit plan” didn’t offend me but reminded me that I could easily fall into disorienting unemployment if I wasn't careful. Gas, alone, is $5.12 and my beloved avocado toast from down the street is $7.
On the other hand, the hand that likely inspired my move in the first place, I knew exactly how relieving it’d be if I didn’t serve tables across my transition — the excitement to dedicate my time to passion-led writing was my secret. I’m popping the shit I earned while I can, there’s a new phase afoot.
“Don’t you worry about that part, I’ll be alright.”
After I really listened to what I said, I smiled and chuckled with an optimism that I didn’t quite understand.
I was only half-joking. I had a few gigs lined up but if none of them ended up working out for anything long term, I was already so much closer to the life that I want to lead compared to last year.
My exit plan was built on the time and effort that I’ve put into the work that I eventually want to do. That’s where the security and pride come from. In my eyes, I’m already a music writer. I’m grateful and privileged to come out of two years of food service with as much integrity to keep my dreams close.
Week in and week out, I slept in many parking lots, edited multiple articles, and had a few drinks in between. And everything finished itself with an arpeggiating grace. Writing’s still been fulfilling, even on the backburner. Overcoming tough shit gave me the confidence to welcome any challenge that stands in my way.
“Doing It My Way” was the last song I played on my record player in Long Beach before moving in late July 2022. Furniture emptied and carpet left stained, I stood between the record player and the front door to take in the pressure of the precipice. Last year, the track helped me through a fumbled situationship and family difficulties. But I’m not down nor am I out this time.
The descending string progression and spoken-word bits completely capture what I now know about spring’s inspiring fleet.
I wanted this move to stand for others in my life that had any doubts about themselves. It’s okay admire about that courage. As Bobby Womack taught me last year, you’re doing it your way — that’s what’s up.