By Amanda Ukasick
It had been snowing since noon the previous day. On a dark, cold, 4am morning, hidden in the thick woods of an alpine-desert mountain’s northerly face, I woke to find a thin layer of ice had formed on my blanket: frozen condensation formed from my breath. The fire had gone out in the middle of the night, and everything in our humble, off-the-grid cabin was now frozen. Even the canned food, potatoes, and jugs of drinking water were hunks of ice. It was one of those “two-dog nights,” where both of our canine adventure companions cuddled up under the blankets to keep us, and themselves, warm through the long night. I could see the fresh snow piled up so high it was nearly reaching the windows.
This is not where I thought I would be at 20 years old.
All my life leading up to this moment, the story I told myself was that, in some abstract way, I would do nothing but make music and art for the rest of my life, somehow making a living from it the whole time. There was never any plan B, but I can’t say that there was ever really a plan A. Wanderlust had gotten the better of me, and I had a set of completely new plans, unlike anything I had ever thought possible.
Over the course of four years, I had traveled to nearly every major city in the country, zig-zagging and hitchhiking back and forth, covering tens of thousands of miles. Some of the time I did play music and sing on the road. I even sold my artwork. I would set out my guitar case on the sidewalk to accept donations and arrange my artwork around it in a display. For hours, I’d play every song I knew dozens of times over. I made enough to buy meals throughout the day, and it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time in a new and exciting city. I was just as excited by the diversity of people I was meeting as I was for the chance to play music anywhere I woke up that day.
Somewhere along the line (and a couple thousand miles later), I traded in the guitar and wanderlust for a pair of work boots and a shovel. I lived in a teepee, a camper-trailer, and eventually my own tiny cabin. I made a living as a farmer in various forms for the next two years, from growing and selling my own organic kale in California, to working on a 1,000 head goat dairy in Oregon. The money made from my kale farm paid the down payment for our property and cabin in Oregon. I discovered how much I enjoyed the hands-on physical labor, working the soil, growing food, and caring for animals. All the time I had as a teenager to play music and make art was now occupied by responsibilities of farm and home.
As much as I relished the purifying, cleansing nature of sweating, laboring, toiling in the summer sun, and powering through the breathtaking cold of winter to produce wholesome foods, I felt a voice inside ache for the old dream that seemed to have been abandoned. I became frustrated—angry even—at myself and my partner, blaming and coming up with reasons why I didn’t play music anymore. It was an all out ego battle with myself. The identity I had formed in playing music as a teen felt like a completely different person than who I had become. In a way, I decided that it was a different person; I was no longer the musician and artist I once was because I had more important things to worry about. This identity crisis activated a vast spectrum of emotions, from feeling empowered to feeling betrayed and depressed, and these feelings have stuck with me in a kind of fluctuating relationship for the last two years.
Now, a total of four years later and back in my home state, I have changed my identity once again. Now I am Mom, working from home and caring for a beautiful, extraordinary three-month- old daughter. My time is divided between working online, caring for my girl and our three dogs, cleaning our apartment, running errands, cooking for and caring for my hard working partner, and finding a few moments here and there to relax. Never in these days, do I sit down to write an entire song, or even pick up a paintbrush. There’s one notion that might even say, now that I’m a mom, I’ll never get a chance to really play music or make art again. But out of all of this time and experience, I’ve grown to see it differently. I want nothing more than to teach my girl how to play music, how to express herself creatively, explore mediums of artistic creation and practice her skills. I want to teach her that music and art are important to our experience as humans, but we should not limit ourselves by identifying as simply one thing or another. I want my girl to experience everything. She has opened my eyes to see that I am not a different person at all in this, and that I have only grown. I have widened my world view and expanded the range of things that I consider important. I have focused on my goals and feel now that I am only just beginning this journey.
Because today, I realized why the role of music in my life had shifted so drastically. What once was the number one thing in my day-to-day life had evolved into rare and cherished moments scattered over weeks or months. This was not a betrayal or a straying off from any one destined path. The forces at work in this universe needed me to look at myself without the attachment of the label I had given myself—the veil I hid behind—to see all the other facets of myself, my personality, and my potential. Furthermore, it made me look at my life, my future, and my desires without that one particular attachment or lens. Now, rather than “what does Amanda the musician want and need?” I asked myself: “what does Amanda the human want and need?”
For so long I felt that something or someone had robbed me of the identity I had created for myself as a musician and artist. Now I realize that I haven’t been robbed; I’ve been set free to explore myself and create my life without limiting myself based on one mode of expression. Now, I feel empowered to learn a new song, or a new chord, or write another verse of that song that’s been forming for months. I am not one thing or the other. I am an ever-growing, ever-learning, abundantly creative human being with the capacity to go through many phases of interest and focus, never losing anything in the process of changing. I have another beautiful human to share these experiences with and I can see the world for all the abundance of opportunity that it holds.
Amanda Ukasick is a 22-year-old multi-medium artist originally from Randolph, VT. Among her many lifelong artistic interests are writing both music and narratives, playing music, occasionally painting, drawing, and freelancing in graphic design. In 2014, Amanda self produced an album of original music, which can still be found for sale here at https://amanda-ukasick.bandcamp.com/. She currently enjoys spending her days as a work at home mom, taking care of three large breed dogs, her daughter Leah, and partner Justin in Burlington, VT. Find Amanda on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Aukasickgraphics/ for all freelance graphic design services.