Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Boys from Fyffe

If I've ever taken my career for granted, cursed the days when I wasn't sure when (or if) I'd receive my next assignment,  or longed for a more stable lifestyle, last week I was given a a reminder of why I love being a journalist. Reporting provides the ultimate opportunity to be present in the moment and to learn from every experience.

 Freelancing is a daily leap of faith. It's great practice for staying in the moment and not rushing ahead to whatever comes next. Being a freelance writer means—in the words of the venerable Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron—never getting my feet firmly planted on the ground. Chodron contends that the desire to know there is something solid under our feet is the reason for great suffering in this life. She teaches what we believe is "solid" is actually impermanent, and therefore will fade away. This idea is opposite of what Western culture tells us, which is that we should be "grounded" and that solid is good. Buddhism says that living in the not-knowing is living without expectation and therefore opens us up to endless possibility. In other words, I never limit myself by my own dreams, which are by my human nature, temporal and very short-sighted.

   Being okay with not-knowing can be difficult when I don't know when or from where my next paycheck will come. As a freelancer I have the choice of enjoying my slow time or making myself miserable worrying over when the next gainful assignment will appear. It's not easy to just relax and trust that work will come. And granted I don't "just relax." I'm always pitching stories, drumming up new clients, doing the n-word (networking) as much as possible. But I also spent a time writing my own stuff (like this blog), going to Baron's baseball games and taking long bike rides with Jack and Jason, and doing things I'd put off when I was gainfully employed, such actually going to see a doctor when I'm sick. I'm glad I used my time as I did, because as the adage goes, "When it rains, it pours." Last week, I was deluged with assignments ... and that's a good thing.
   I was so busy in fact that on Tuesday morning when I fielded a call from a good friend and editor, I almost turned it down. The last-minute assignment required me to drive to Montgomery the next day and cover the Alabama Future Farmers of America String Band competition. I'd have to get up at 6 a.m., drive  90 minutes there (and back) just to interview five members of this high school ensemble from Fyffe, Ala. (population: 1,100) and write 200 words. For my effort I'd receive $400, plus mileage. Was it worth my time? I thought for a few minutes before answering, "Heck yeah!"
  And just like that, on Wednesday morning, I'm driving south on I65 to Montgomery to attend the FFA string band competition.
   I spent the morning listening to some awe-inspiring blue grass music and talking with the boys and their FFA sponsor, Marty. He was so proud of these boys. Marty was the Agri teacher at their high school and said he didn't know much about playing music, but he certainly knew how to inspire his students. I followed Marty and the Fyffe boys as they warmed up back stage, and took notes as they readied themselves for the competition.
   According to Marty, the fact that this group made it into the FFA State String Competition was the biggest thing to happen in the history of the Fyffe FFA. No chicken or pig or dairy cow had brought such honor to the town. And if I sound like I'm mocking this community, I'm not. This was a really big deal. Four of the boys had been playing together since their freshman year and this would be their last chance at the state title. (They competed for it last year and lost.)
   I have to admit, it felt a bit like I'd stepped into an episode of Glee—if Glee had been set in northern Alabama. How in the world would I have ever experienced this event if I had not received the call from a desperate editor who needed me to cover this story at the last minute?
   When the Fyffe boys took the stage, I held my breath as they played a flawless set, including an original tune called "Grandpa John" about the Civil War. (The link is to a video of the band playing at the FFA competition. Check it out.)
   Of course, all the bands were very good, but Fyffe won the day, and the State Championship. They'll go on to the national competition in Louisville this fall. And to think on Monday of last week, I knew nothing about the FFA string band competition or this little group of talented musicians from Fyffe. (I hadn't even heard of Fyffe!) This is what I get in exchange for taking a last-minute assignment, for saying yes, for showing up, for being present. That's why I love my job.

P.S. If you want to hear these guys play, buy their soon-to-be-released albumn or find out how they fare at the FFA State Championship in Louisville, you can follow them on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/johntomjessaverylevichaw?fref=ts


  1. Thank you so much for taking the last-minute assignment. As a proud parent of the banjo player, and as proud of the other young men, I want to thank you for writing this and sharing. I hope others who don't know about Fyffe or these guys will have opportunities to hear them in person. If it is ok I would like to post a link to their Facebook page. They try to keep bookings posted for anyone who would like to see them in person.
    Again, thank you for this story!
    DeNiece Thompson


    1. I guess you will have to copy and paste the url for their facebook page.

  2. Thank you Brigid Elsken Galloway!!!
    DeNiece Thompson