Casting Your Bread
Randy Stonehill is person very few people have heard of. He has made his living for the past 45 years as a songwriter and a traveling musician. He is a gifted performer and a serious entertainer.
I have had the privilege of meeting Randy several times and have found, while he is brilliant on stage with a guitar and a microphone, he is somewhat difficult to talk with in person. This is because he is not capable of taking anything seriously.
For example, several years ago I spoke with him in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant where we were sharing a late night, post-concert dinner. Instead of speaking directly to him, he requested I speak to his chicken sandwich. He then agreed to respond to me through the chicken sandwich as if it were a puppet. With mayonnaise saturated fingers he manipulated the bun up and down and gave the sandwich a chicken voice.
As incredibly silly as this may sound, the sandwich and I proceeded to have a very meaningful conversation about music and songwriting. At the time, I was doing some songwriting of my own and I was interested in knowing how I should proceed if I wanted to make a serious go of it.
The advice I received that night from Randy and his chicken burger came from one of the “wisdom” books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes:
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”
Basically, Randy — err, I mean his sandwich — was telling me to just write my songs and see what happens. He said if I liked songwriting and I felt inspired, it was O.K. to write without having a recording contract in my hands. The song would be perfect with or without an audience. If anything else would come of it, that would just be a surprise bonus.
For the next several months, I fiddled around on my guitar with a few ideas. I began forming a melody and lyrics for a potential song. As the song came together, I decided to rent some studio equipment and record it. At the time, I had very little money so I held a donut sale to pay for the recording. I needed about $300 to put the whole thing together. Working with a local bakery, I sold seven dozen donuts, which left me about $290 short of my goal. (In those days, we didn’t have anything like “Kickstarter.”) Fortunately, some of the people who bought donuts saw what I was doing with the money, and together they gave me what I needed. It was an incredible gift.
I called in some guys I knew from high school and located a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. He played an instrument called the Chapman Stick which is kind of like a guitar and kind of like a piano. The song we recorded, Diamonds in the Rough, came out great, considering it was the work of a bunch of amateurs. I was pleased and so I started handing out copies.
A few months passed by, and I was at work one day when a fax came to the office to my attention. It was an invitation from an organization called The Children’s Relief Fund. They were based somewhere in France, and they were holding a fundraiser at the United Nations Building in New York City. They had heard my song and wanted me to perform it at the fundraiser.
I was dumbfounded.
France? How did my song end up in France? Perform in New York at the United Nations Building? What the...Is this some kind of joke?
It was no joke. It really happened. On May 15, 1996, I found myself on the receiving end of a standing ovation on a stage at the U.N. in New York. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.
It was also a life-lesson I will never forget. I learned what it means to take a risk and step outside of my comfort zone. I have never been someone who does things half-heartedly. If I commit to something I am in it 100%. I learned to trust in this aspect of my character. I learned that I do not always need to know what an outcome will be. I just need to remember that if a project fails, it will not be because I didn’t give it my all.
This is a lesson I have taken with me into my career in printing. It came in handy when our shop implemented digital printing. It came in handy when we decided to take on copier management. It came in handy when we decided to become FSC certified. It comes in handy every time we hire someone new or take on a new service.
Whenever I am handed a special project that is unusual or outside of my typical scope, whenever I am asked to serve on a task force or a committee, whenever I am faced with a budget challenge, whenever some new technology comes along and I have to relearn everything I ever learned all over again, I remember what I learned from a chicken sandwich in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Cast your bread. Remember, it’s your bread. You have good bread. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be where you are.
Dwayne Magee is now in his 15th year as director of Messiah College Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys (age 24 and 20) and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu