20 January 2017

I’ve been under the weather pretty much all week, between the onset of a cold over last weekend followed immediately by a stomach virus that is a bit on the painful side.  This was my first week back in the saddle in an academic setting, so I taught through it, but fortunately only had to push through two days at work.  It has also been pretty much a solid gray week, with one morning where the sun poked out for about an hour, and rain off and on for at least the last three days.  It’s starting to blur.  Today was a sad day all around what with the orange man taking office and immediately removing the climate change, LGBTQ and civil rights pages from the White House web site.  I’ve been trying to stay away from the book of face, but that has been difficult.  All and all, it has been a pretty dark week and the stomach virus has pretty much eliminated seeking succor in food.  Tomorrow there’s a women’s protest march in Chicago that my wife wants us to take part in as a family.  My daughter wants to make signs, but doesn’t want to be in a crowd of 50,000 people, which I understand.  I’m not a crowd person in the slightest and I have some safety concerns, but the cause is just.  I’m also concerned about whether I’m going to feel well enough to do it.

I am having difficulties with mood management this week due to all of this.  First, it has been so dark around here for the past seven to ten days that it is taking its toll despite the morning use of the “happy light.”   It is our breakfast companion.  It has been positively dreary outside between the constant overcast skies and the constant damp wetness of everything.  Even turning the lights on inside only helps a bit.  I could pull the drapes and drop the blinds on it, but then I’d really feel like I was living in a cave, something I don’t think would help.  Then there’s the whole being sick thing, and while I am thankful that the cold aspect is over, this stomach ailment is a major drag that is also affecting my intestinal tract, which probably isn’t helping my serotonin levels either.  I’ve been able to eat very little over the past three days, haven’t been able to stomach coffee, but have managed to keep up with my meds.  I’ve stopped taking the fish oil though until this passes.  It’s too unpleasant.  So the lack of sunlight combined with physical malaise has been making things rocky on the emotional front.

The advent of the orange man’s reign is also a major emotional drain that I haven’t come to grips with as of yet.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be okay with it, because that is not something I can foresee by any stretch of the imagination.  I simply cannot come to grips with how this travesty occurred, and it is plaguing me to no end.  This is a waking nightmare for me largely because I can find no evidence of a shred of decency in the man.  We’ve gone from supreme class, intelligence, and a dedicated civil servant to this narcissistic sociopath.  I’m grieving heavily for my country, and for all those people who will be harmed by this administration that has been dubbed the least qualified cabinet in our history (one of the nicer things that has been said about it).  I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up any moment and it’ll have simply been a really preposterously horrific nightmare.  Unfortunately I’m not sleeping.

One of the benchmarks of character is how we handle adversity.  Do we cave in, assume the fetal position and wait for things to pass?  Sometimes it feels like the thing to do, and I’m sure that all of us have wanted to at some point.  Right now I’m tired, and I don’t feel well both physically and emotionally.  What I really want to do is crawl off to bed, pull up the covers and go to sleep for a really long time, at least until the sun decides to shine again.  But I can’t.  I have to do, not check out until things get better.  I’ve got performances to give, lectures to teach, a family to care for, and an innate desire to resist tyranny, injustice and bigotry.  Even if I’m depressed, sick, or tired, it’s my duty as a decent human being.  So I’m resisting.

 

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The Last Gasp of 2016

It’s almost six o’clock on the last day of 2016 and I’m just now starting my last blog post of the year.  I’ve been pretty tired today due to getting in at three in the morning from last night’s gig and then not being able to fall asleep until four-ish.  I had to be up at eight to get ready to teach one of my guitar students.  A power nap did occur, but it was short, maybe twenty minutes of actual sleep, so coffee will have to carry me through until time for bed.  Last night we hit at about 8:45 and finished our last tune at around 1:30.  All in all we played well and kept a crowd there through the night.  It was a decent way to finish out the year’s performances and we all made it home safely.  Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about the positives of the year in review and haven’t taken a stab at the things that could use improvement.  I think that it’s time that I do just that.

This past year kicked off with my being involved in one group, The Chicago Classical Guitarists Ensemble, essentially a sextet.  We did some good work and performed at the Mid-American Guitar Ensemble Festival in Grand Rapids, Michigan in early April.  We had a couple other performances, but I decided to leave the group in May because while it had been a very worthwhile experience it was not moving me closer to increasing my income as a musician.  While this might seem to some to be a somewhat mercenary reason for moving on, one of my major goals for this year was to come closer to a livable income in my chosen profession, and this was not moving me forward in that direction.  This left me entirely on my own through the summer, which yielded three pickup gigs with some local semi-pros between June, July and August.

After moving through eight months of the year, I hit the end of August and the realization that it had been a full year since I’d been involved in a regularly working group, which didn’t sit well with me.  I obviously was not getting closer to one of my prime goals, so something had to change.  I decided to load on the groups to try to boost the income potential.  Theoretically, I thought, this would be likely to resolve the issue, so I dove in, committing to four bands and a heavy woodshedding workload.  Since around October the gigs have started to come in through a couple, the workload is still pretty heavy, and the income is improving, but not anywhere near what it needs to be, and quite frankly I’m still not getting the level of personal satisfaction out of the game that I’m looking for either.

My writing practice has made solid improvements this year over the previous years.  I have, as of this writing, successfully completed two writing challenges for a total of three months of daily writings of at least 750 words per day.  I’ve generated a good number of essays that I’m pleased with and some fiction that I’m not sure what I’m going to do with.  There were periods of lost time over the rest of the year and low productivity, but for the most part I’m starting to actually be the writer I want to grow into.  I’m running two blogs and have been gaining followers on both as well as being read all over the world, twenty-seven countries and counting.  This pleases me greatly, but I also need to look at formal publication submissions, particularly ones that pay.  However, I do think that I’ve made much more progress this year in my writing work than I have in my musical work, and I’m going to stick to that perspective because I’ve actually accomplished some of the goals I set for myself in this arena quite well.  The bar will need to be higher for 2017, but I am going into the next year in this area with some confidence.

One of the things that I have learned over the years is that as a creative person I have to be a creative person in order to have any chance of achieving either personal satisfaction in my life or a modicum of happiness.  I must create; it’s something that I HAVE to do.  When I’m not pursuing a creative bent, I lose my desire to be.  My depressive periods become progressively more dangerous, last longer, and are much more devastating.  I become increasingly difficult to live with and wall myself away.  So, I have continued my pursuits and will do so, continuing to try different approaches until I find something that works and yields the results I desire.  I’m finding my way, and will eventually get to where I want to be.  Tomorrow I start 2017, and start brainstorming for a fresh approach to the conundrum which is making a living as a musician.

 

 

Welcome to our Dystopian Future

Today the Electoral College casts its votes and seals the fate of my nation. Given that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes and somehow is not the next President of the United States, I can’t help but believe that the entire concept of democracy in this country is a farce. I am not optimistic that the Electoral College will instate Clinton, in fact I sincerely doubt it, and that leaves me feeling a sense of loss not only for the future of my nation and the many people who need help here, but also for the fate of the planet as Trump has no intention of doing anything to halt global warming or the other ominous and now dooming ecological disasters. I have been watching as Trump has appointed people who know nothing about the positions they’re being appointed to, their only qualifications being that they were somewhat loyal to him, are already extremely wealthy, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the people of the United States, The Constitution of the United States, and the United States’ relationship with any other country aside from Russia which helped seal this man’s election to the highest office in the country.

The ethos of the country I served in the military during the 80s is doomed and our Constitution is no longer being defended by our leadership who has sworn to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The election was a farce, and the results have been overtly influenced by a foreign power leaving us with a friend of Russia in power who has no concept of diplomacy and is already bringing us toward possible war with China despite not even being in office yet. I, along with millions of other Americans actively served to stand in defense of the United States and Europe itself against the threat of Russian aggression, and now we have an individual entering office who has benefitted from those very same people we stood against. Yes, the CCCP is gone, however Putin was a ranking officer in the KGB and along with many of his former officers is now running Russia and attempting to expand its borders. His people interfered with our election and what has been done about it?

I have been trying to find hope in this dark tunnel that we are passing through, but every day something happens that simply makes the situation worse. Once again I am left wondering how the people who voted for the man heard something different in his speeches that led them to believe that he had their interests at heart. I listened to hate filled vitriol spill from his mouth, and lie after lie after lie, each one more blatant than the next. I read of his statement that he could shoot a man in Times Square and still win people’s votes and have concluded that this was the one truth he spoke during the entire election. I tried to watch some of his speeches but they all seemed like some bizarre amalgamation of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the people just fell in line. It seemed like he’d read Hitler’s playbook, applied it here, and the people screamed for their messiah. The one hope that I held, tenuous as it was, was that the Electoral College would somehow stop this nightmare that no one else was stopping.

Our cabinet is being filled with crooks, liars, and people who have no understanding of the positions they are filling. Our intelligence community is being openly disparaged by the man taking office, as he does to anyone who dares to disagree with him or can bring solid facts to the table that he doesn’t want to accept. He has created a hostile environment through his twitter account alone, and refuses to separate from his business interests despite abundant conflicts of interest. He wants his daughter to have the first lady’s office in the White House. Why? She’s not part of the government; she’s a businesswoman. Why does she have access? What about his business debts to other countries? Do you really think he’s not going to try to reap in financial benefits from his position? If you think he should, you’re kissing this country goodbye. His only loyalty is to his wallet.

I am living in a waking nightmare, struggling to find hope for the future and am being confounded at every turn. I thought that we were better than this, but perhaps that was just hubris on my part. I thought that the United States stood for freedom and equality for all, and that democracy was good. I wanted to believe that my country had a collective conscience that valued people for who they are, that helped those who were in need and wanted to make the world a better place for everyone and everything that relies on it for sustenance. Now, instead, I find myself fearing the utter dissolution of the fabric that binds us together and the impending destruction of our eco system. I am wondering what our children will inherit from this period, and I am mourning already for those who will suffer. Welcome to the new dystopian world that we have made.

Working through the Darkness: Depression and Performance

Sometimes performing is really difficult. We all have those nights where things don’t go quite the way we planned, equipment might glitch, or players might glitch and we turn in a performance that wasn’t up to our standards. Sometimes we’re sick or tired and feel physically challenged to get up there and do the deed, but we do it regardless, battle through it, as athletes would say, and do the best we can in the moment. However, for me the most difficult performances are the ones where I’m depressed, and by that I’m not discussing garden variety blues, what I’m referring to is chronic depression, the illness. Performing while I’m in the midst of another onset of the disease, mine is cyclical even when medicated, is extraordinarily difficult on many levels.

Depression sucks energy from my soul, creating both physical fatigue as well as spiritual fatigue and malaise. As a bass player one of my jobs is driving the music forward, and I’m good at it. I have to be on top of the rhythm, locked in with the drummer and providing the foundation for the music and stirring movement from the audience. This takes positive energy as much as it does skill, and when I’m in the midst of another round of depression energy is incredibly difficult to come by. In many ways when I’m depressed I feel like I’m moving through molasses. Everything slows down, and I spend most of the gig fighting that inner drag that threatens to undermine the entire purpose that a bass player has.

Depression also produces a sense of disconnectedness from your surroundings and the people you work with, let alone love. There’s a feeling of being out of step with everyone and everything. Response time slows down, attention span shortens to almost non-existent and communication becomes a chore. If you’re trying to sing back up this disconnectedness can sometimes result in struggling to physically remember the harmonies you’re supposed to hit, and sometimes you have to step back from the microphone because they’re just not there. Everything feels off and there’s a pervasive numbness that sets in. If you do manage to pull off a smoking hot set, chances are you won’t even notice between the inner numbness and disconnection.

It also creates a huge disparity between what I perceive and reality itself. When I’m depressed rule number one is that my inner critic cannot and should not be trusted. A decent performance will be perceived as a disaster, and an excellent one as just ok. I find myself basing my entire performance on one fraction of a tune that didn’t go as planned, and that one or two measures becomes the entire sum of the three hours of music. When I’m doing all right, then my take on the performance would be quite positive, but under the influence of my illness I simply can’t turn the perception around. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been depressed and despite that turned in an excellent performance. Afterwards I received compliments from audience members, including fellow musicians who wouldn’t give compliments unless they were earned, and the comments just roll off like rain from an umbrella. They register as someone saying something nice to me, and I smile and thank them, but the remarks don’t sink in and stay with me. My perception is that I was mediocre at best regardless of who tells me otherwise. There’s nothing like apologizing to your bandmates for what they thought was a good night for the group.

It’s also extraordinarily difficult to project a positive, fun-filled stage persona while suffering from a depressive episode. You have to constantly remind yourself to smile and overtly interact with the crowd despite feeling like you’re at a very close relative’s funeral. People are there to be entertained, and chances are they shelled out some money at the door just to get in. So the mask has to go on, and remain intact throughout the night, no matter what. Some folks will tell you that if you act happy, eventually you’ll be happy. Obviously they’ve never suffered from depression. Someone who suffers from depression might be smiling on the outside, and have donned the professional face of denial of the internal to get through what they’re supposed to do, but on the inside they’re dying.

Regardless of all of this, I’m thankful that I get to do what I love to do even when I feel like hiding from the world. I’m also thankful that despite when that few steps up onto the stage feels like an insurmountable mountain to climb, that I can still make those steps, and that honestly even on a bad night during my deeper periods of darkness I feel better while I’m playing than I do when I’m not. It’s always darker when I don’t have the opportunity to step out on stage and try to bring my internal world into a better balance. So I do it as often as I can, whenever I can, and where ever I can with as many people as I can. It is how I keep breathing.