The following is a guest blog written by Lot Riot Accomplice Dan Schack:
When Matt asked to write a blog post, I knew I wanted to center it around their theme for the year: The Grit and the Glory. I like this concise line; it’s like a compressed parable that captures the essence of our small activity. It’s memorable and catchy. Powerful, yet simple.
But are grit and glory as simple as they appear? This phrase seems, to me, to capture two things that are distinct from each other. First we have the grit, or the process, and then you have the glory, the end result or outcome. This apparent contrast really got me thinking: is there grit distinct from glory?
I write this, like many things, personally and from a very-subjective vantage point that is mine only. But from that experience, I say quite confidently that in the drumline world, and quite possibly beyond it in the so-called “real world,” the grit IS the glory, and the glory the grit. Have these words lost all meaning to you yet, reader? I’m getting close.
So much of the time we spend in the marching arts is straight up gritty.
Blazing sun in your eyes, mouth desert dry, legs wobbling with exhaustion, thoughts lingering somewhere else, and many hours left with still too much to do. It’s a perpetual grind that goes on and on with little interruption. Even the off-times are gritty: filthy busses like some dystopian urban housing scheme, changing drum heads when you should be eating, or showering, or just anything else, gyms with lights that can’t be shut off.
When I think about my own time marching, it’s characterized not by moments of glory or validation or even basic pleasure. No, these times are marked, overlaid, underlined by dead ends, disappointment, frustration, doubt, confusion, and failure.
Yet somehow, regardless of that long list of really negative sounding words, I am still here. And I keep coming back. Why?
There’s something about this grit thing that I, amongst many, search out hungrily. Perhaps it’s my inherent masochism. I, for whatever reason, associate pain with progress. Especially in situations when it is hard to feel any forward momentum or change.
Anyone who has gone on a 90-day tour will describe the psychological difficulty of never feeling like anything is getting better. But little markers of grit help push you. The sweat in your eyes, the endless pile of broken sticks, the reset-do-it-agains. These indicators help show us some kind of incremental progress, no matter how difficult that progress is to latch onto, to make tangible.
In drumline, you experience facing a list of ever-growing and never-ending tasks, and you have no choice but to confront them head-on or run away. The only thing you can do is move forward. It’s the only option.
That’s the grit.
So is there an end to all of this? Is there glory waiting for us at some point of termination?
(That felt existential^)
On the surface level, I think it would be easy to reply to the above question:
“Yes! There is! There’s winning, for instance, or medaling! There is making finals. Then there are the sponsor shirts, the corps jackets, and don’t forget the beads/gears/dogtags/deltas/crowns/crosses/whatever. And of course there is the thrill of performing alongside hundreds of others you are relying on, all in front of a live audience. There are the YouTube videos, the hundreds of pictures. And don’t forget the eternal friendships made along the way.”
That’s likely what you would say.
And okay. Yes to all of that. But that is a very retrospective approach to thinking about and feeling glory. In this model, we only receive glory at the end, when things lock into place and are forged as untouchable, precious memories in our minds. Glory exclusively appears at the end, a beer at the end of a marathon, when everything is put behind us, safely and securely.
And this is where I question that configuration of glory. As the After. The End.
The real moments of glory I experienced, aside from all of the very legitimate ones you listed above, were the gritty, scummy, difficult moments. And I know this because these are the moments I remember best.
15 hour drives back and forth across the country for indoor weekends. Drumming on a plywood table in a kitchen in Columbus, Ohio. The haunted housing site in St. Elmo, Illinois (you can look this one up!). The scorchingly hot, never ending days in San Antonio, Texas. The cicadas. More long drives to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Virginia. 12 straight hours of individual auditions at Nation Ford High School. Wet socks.
These are memories of times that were straight up grueling, but for me they shine vividly bright. And in truth, I can barely remember the two times I marched DCI finals, both of which were medalist years. And the YouTube videos are there. But these are images upheld as glorious. They didn’t feel like that in real life.
It was the tests I endured throughout the regular old day-to-day tasks and struggles that built up my armor. These tests are the thing that this activity offers us that few other experiences can. And in a world that seems hell-bent on making everything so easy, comfortable, and predictable, I run straight towards the chaos and the pain. There is something in there and I’ve seen it and felt it.
Sure, we can think of the process and outcomes separately, but I know in truth grit and glory are two terms that are in fact singular in nature, inextricable from one another.
So as you go off and make your own story, chase those gritty moments and shine a light towards them. There is so much potential there. It is all there.
And focusing on that grit bred potential now will lead you to appreciate all of the moments that test you, that challenge you, that push against you, that confuse you, that leave you doubtful. Once you embrace grit, you will unearth all of the glory that is encased within in. And you’ll get so much more of it so much sooner.
This glorious grit is the diet that feeds your will, that builds your endurance and your courage. Find all of the glory inside of the grit. It’s a dormant but endlessly powerful resource that explains itself to you as you excavate more and more of it.
So keep digging for it.
The Grit and the Glory.
Dan Schack is the Creative Director of George Mason University Indoor Drumline, the Production Manager of Carolina Crown, the Program Coordinator for the Connecticut Hurricanes, and a freelance adjudicator and writer for the marching arts. You can find more of Dan at www.danschack.com and @d_schack.