“Roll with it,” my manager said to me about an upcoming album release week, when I groaned at the hectic schedule ahead of me. I sighed and said, “Yeah, I’m learning. I’ve got this. I think.” Because maybe I do “got this.” And that’s only because I know, also, that I don’t. And knowing that I don’t and that that’s OK is maybe the greatest gift of where I am now.
Last year on my 50th birthday, I was surrounded by my closest friends playing Cards Against Humanity. I was also nine months pregnant, which, if you’d told me 10 years ago that’s how I’d be celebrating turning 50, I’d have snorted wine out of my nose. You see, kids were never part of the plan. I mean, I loved kids. Other people’s kids. But I had Great Things To Accomplish and that always was my priority. That is to say, I was always my first priority.
A career in the performing arts demands a healthy bit of narcissism and ambition. I am a singer, songwriter, producer and teacher. You might not have heard of me; I’m not widely famous. But I make a good living. I play to thousands one night and to a handful the following. I live in Nashville, which is a working town for those of us who have had no choice in the matter of dream following. This is more than a career for me. It’s a spiritual path. A mission. Music and stories breathe through me and I have followed the wild winds of this calling since the first song spilled out of me and onto a guitar in my late twenties.
I’ve led a peripatetic life, touring over 120 dates a year over the course of the last 20. Sacrificing friendships, a marriage, and, so I thought, having a baby. It was a willing trade, as I was ambitious and single-minded. It all looked good from the outside: I’d been signed to labels, had a management team, received great press and was a success by many standards. But I was increasingly alone and miserable.
After hitting a quiet bottom, a series of events occurred that I’ve come to think of as a spiritual awakening, permanently altering my relationship to my career. I moved from New York City to Nashville, leaving my marriage. I got uncomfortably honest and comfortable being alone. I got sober. I discovered meditation. I got a dog. I cleaned up my debt. I let go of some toxic business relationships. Then, when I was 47, I met a beautiful, also sober man, and fell in love in a deliberately slow manner so that when we married in a small ceremony on the banks of the Tennessee River, I was able to say my vows without hesitation. Within a year, the opportunity came to us to try IVF with an egg donor, and so, at the age of 49, a five-day blastocyte, made of a combination of my husband and Donor 133 from East Tennessee, who played the fiddle and loved Jesus, was placed into my womb.
And then, I made a record that was purely for me. I let go of the need for my art to be valued by the industry, and made a very honest, spare record in the days before he was born, and then let it gestate. I got off the road and slowed down, learning to be a mother. And, knowing this industry is fickle and forgetful and that I was perhaps sacrificing everything, I chose family.
Fast forward: my son is a toddler and I’m on the verge of diving back into it all with a new record and a tour that will take me across the U.S. to the UK and Europe. But my relationship to my career has changed.
I’ve learned the journey is more interesting than the destination. I’ve learned that there’s no “there” there. I have a good friend who reminds me to “stay out of the results.” I’ve learned I can write anywhere, even with my baby balanced on one hip, during naptime, at 6 a.m. before he wakes, in my head while rocking him to sleep. My career has not suffered and, in fact, I think it’s grown in the letting go. With less time to stress and look at what I haven’t accomplished, I’m able to be really present for what I have and to show up with extreme gratitude to the work. It’s a daily practice and when I get hooked on fear, my son’s face lights up with wonder and I’m reminded why I write songs in the first place. His cry turns into sunbursting laughter within seconds and I realize, my son is teaching me the most important lesson: “roll with it.”
A modern folksinger whose music nods to the genre’s 1970s glory days, Amy Speace has spent two decades chronicling the high marks and heartbreaks of a life logged on the road. Along the way, she’s built an international audience without the help of a major label, relying instead upon a touring schedule whose milestones include the Glastonbury Festival, NPR’s Mountain Stage, and a yearly average of 150 shows.