Friday, May 19, 2017

Sometimes, the world wins

Be still...wild and young.
Long may your innocence reign.

(*note: this is a post I started yesterday, but couldn't get around to finishing. As I type this, various species of birds are chirping in tall pines around the property of Jillian's parents place in the Haliburton Highlands, and my daughter is having a beautiful, side-span nap on our bed. I am doing my best to be rooted in the moment*)

Try as we might, and fight as we fucking fight, sometimes the world wins. We try to endure. We push on. We make healthy choices. We go to bed early. We do the things that we need to do. We raise families.

We do our best to cheat time. But in the end, we know that the bullet train is on the tracks, and we know that it is indeed coming.

But maybe we just need to take a moment, and Be Still.

Lately, death has been the theme that has usurped all of my social media feeds. To bring you up to speed, an international superstar/rock star, otherworld-talent, well-loved musician and front man (supposedly) killed himself at age 52 (Chris), and another local mutual friend, bagpiper, and sound engineer who did the lion share of recording on my new album died of cancer at age 40 (Tom). This all happened within 72 hours. Both of them left behind children and significant others. Though both deaths are very different in nature and scope, they are both fucking terrible storms of life that a select few will have to teeth-grittingly endure.

I suppose, in a way, I haven't taken to the emotional pulpit and scoured out a sentimental, loving-memory post for either - even though both people influenced me indirectly. I was a huge fan of Chris, and possess at least four of his albums and some of his solo works, and I spent time with Tom on more than one occasion, in both creative and recreational settings. He recorded most of the drums and guitars on my latest album.

I suppose I haven't done this because I've weathered something similar in my personal journey and past.

In March of 2013, a mutual friend, and amazing guitarist and musician (who I only had one conversation with) who was 34 (Jay) supposedly committed suicide while touring with a rock group in Edmonton. I had just finished spending 4 days with the band (Matt Mays) and shot some social media videos for them. That same August, a close friend (Dale) of my brothers and mine (more my brothers - mine through proxy and pub-chats) died of Leukemia at age 43 in his parents home in Maxville, Ontario. It was a tragic time, and a I was surrounded by a hotbed of fuck-this-worldness and I was newly separated. I was awash in a sea of rage and questions and alcohol. I dug deep in conversation around both tragedies. I scoured the earth for answers. I cried on lonely night drives. I feared death more than ever. I turned over every rock.

But in the end, I realized that the greatest healer was not drinks. Or weed. Or distraction. Creativity and physical activity helped, sure - and they served as outlets - but they weren't the end game. I could power out songs, and bleed out the words, and sing them aloud in my empty parents basement at the top of my lungs. That helped a bit, too.

But the greatest healer - the greatest effector - was Time. It was going to bed, and waking up, and gaining a bit more distance. It was being okay with bringing it up in conversation - even when you think it might 'bug' someone else. It was living life as I always had done. And it was also allowing others around me - including myself - to be exactly where we needed to be. And it takes time to get there.

And this was one of my greatest revelations in this time:

People need to feel however the fuck they need to feel. Too often, I see invisible hands all over the place that are directing folks in their emotional navigation,  and what actions and steps they need to take to get from A to B.

But I say fuck that and step back. Grief is a motherfucking demon, and it can manifest itself in whatever way it wants to. You wouldn't believe the array of emotions I saw among friends when Jay died - and at first, I'd think 'how can this person be so mad?! They were friends! Why don't they feel more sentimental or miss him more?!' or vice versa.

But If people want to crawl, we don't need pull them up and make them run - we need to let them crawl. If people need to sprint, don't stop them and make them slow to a jog - let them sprint. Because in the end, they will get there. We just need to be at the ready - and to be beside them - crawling, or sprinting, or walking with them.

The only thing I've been able to sort of equate death to (but it's still really obviously different) is like losing a friend; that person is no longer in your life. They are gone. For whatever reason or differences, your paths had to part. It's sad, and it sucks. There might be traces of them, but they're just gone. The joy that you once created together had to end. There never are easy answers, and you're left to sort through a lot of things alone.

But what you do have, and what no one can take from you, are the memories. Funny thing about us humans; we really have a way of pushing through the shit that happens in our lives (especially in relationships) and we tend to remember the good more than the bad. We are a resilient bunch. Much like Andy Dufresne talked about music while being thrown in the hole at Shawshank Prison, our memories are a place that no one else can get to. They can't be fucked with.

May those memories guide us all as we forge onward and make sense of the chaos and pain and hurt.

Laura Biddle works as a grief counselor, and has written some amazing passages online about dealing with grief and moving on.

"Hope, I believe, begins with acceptance. To accept the moment that IS, is a spiritual practice. This loss, this feeling, this emptiness, this sorrow, THIS despair is real for now. Acceptance takes time and attentiveness, time that urges us to be compassionate with ourselves, trusting that hope will emerge through the multitude of emotions no matter how painful they may be. Acceptance is a practice of living NOW, with trust that this is a time for grief and there will be a time of hope. From here, there is only forward, and forward is hopeful. Acceptance is the first step in restoring hope."

Too often, as we age, we wade through the shallow end of life. We don't dive in. We play it safe. And sometimes, we are afraid to share our real and honest emotions because we are worried that we might offend someone who is going through a hard time. We ball it up. We compartmentalize. I can't tell you how many people have said the shoulda-woulda-coulda (WSC) phrase in conversation with me - and these are people in good health, in their 30's and 40's.
'I should have taken this job.'
'I would have played sports in high school if my parents had let me.'
'I could have dated so-and-so but the timing wasn't right, and she'll always be the one that got away'.

Life happens all around us all the time. To live in a WSC state is to cheat life. It's putting yourself into a fantasy - an alternate reality. Fuck WSC. Sure - we can all feel that twinge from time to time- and that's normal - but it's the staying and swimming and living in it that is not normal. It's counterproductive.

My new friend Tariq wrote a great passage about hockey and life recently, and his words struck me. It was about his childhood hockey-watching experiences, and how the Sens recent run has conjured up so much more than just cheering for a team in the playoffs:

"Even as I sit here writing these words, decades later, my goose bumps are apparent. My eyes are wet. My heart rate is slightly elevated. And, after all this time, I still don't understand why I feel this way. The answer is pretty simple: Hockey is not life. WE are life. We breath emotions. We suffer pain and loss, we approach euphoria with the understanding that it could be taken from us in an instant. We consume joy like a drug. It's what keeps us going. It's what makes life worth living."

Feel how you need to feel, but never ever feel like you need to apologize for your emotions. Let the words out. Laugh hard and tell people you love them. Let your love howl into the evening air of your existence, and drink up the starry summer skies.

Because in the end, although it consumes a lot of our thoughts, I don't really think death is anything. It will happen. Henry Scott Holland would agree:

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

All. Is. Well.

-Henry Scott Holland

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Vibe of the Journey

The exercise of writing takes vigor. It takes energy and want and desire and the slightest, needle-light-ray twinge of focus. It takes meditation.

I am out of practice.

Sure - there have been circumstances that have arisen in my life that have skiffed my feet to deviate from the original course - and that's alright. A gorgeous life partner! Switching jobs and homes. And towns. And the birthing of a beautiful daughter who needed extra medical attention the first month of her life. These things happen in life, and in no way do I feel that they've slowed me down - but they have just taken my laser-gaze away from my words. They are all things to be celebrated! It's a different phase. A new road.

But I'm getting hungry again. The storm of life is residing into a bit of a manageable trickle. I am finding myself again. Words are starting to come out, and I've even created the first new songs in about 5 months. Songwriting has always been a grounding force for me, and a therapeutic release. It's a process of dealing with a feeling or emotion or mind-state (anger, joy, sadness, reflection, future-vision) and putting those thoughts into forward motion and action as they leave your mind and hit the paper.

And no matter what joy and tribulation and testing and jubilation comes, I walk the road. The goal is perpetual motion. I want to keep learning and growing and getting better, and I feel that I'm on that course. Being a father of a tiny human being and the partner of a beautiful woman are part and parcel to that - and though both things happened in unexpected time zones - isn't that just life to a tee? We are never ready for when the beauty hits. It just comes in waves upon waves and takes us to where we need to be - as where we need to be and where we think we need to be are two very different destinations.

The spring has hit in pure, unrelenting sunlight. The flood waters of the Ottawa area are lowering. The bugs will be out in droves. I am looking forward to long walks with Olive the dog, and a frosty evening pint on a dusty, summer walk. I am looking to running through the forest in my parents neighbourhood, and under yellowed-streetlight tunnels in the downtown region. I am looking forward to the lake and time spent with family and friends. I am looking forward to see those I love change and grow and learn around me. I am looking forward to engaging my community and getting involved.

Let us live lives of meaning, freedom and trying - and not be like the cotton-mouthed folks of Bukowksi's words:

"There's nothing to mourn about death any more than there is to mourn about the growing of a flower. What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don't live up until their death. They don't honor their own lives, they piss on their lives. They shit them away. Dumb fuckers. They concentrate too much on fucking, movies, money, family, fucking. Their minds are full of cotton. They swallow God without thinking, they swallow country without thinking. Soon they forget how to think, they let others think for them. Their brains are stuffed with cotton. They look ugly, they talk ugly, they walk ugly. Play them the great music of the centuries and they can't hear it. Most people's deaths are a sham. There's nothing left to die.
"The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship

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