To be a tree …
To be a tree …
I drove into that neighborhood last night.
It wasn’t with the old intentions.
I put myself into a position where I had no choice.
There was no right so I had to turn left. I had to turn left to cool off after an aggressive driver began making me lose my cool.
Taking that left was instinctual, out of necessity. But it wasn’t from that old, feverish, infected instinct.
It wasn’t under the pretense of going on a cruise and then just happening to pass by her house. It wasn’t after another long weekend night ending with me and you getting into another drunken fight, me giving up, getting into my car and driving off, running away back to my parents’ house, wanting to escape what was becoming an increasingly tangled mess, driving myself into that neighborhood, driving past her house, in the ridiculous and desperately vain hope that somehow, she’d be up and outside at four in the morning, and we’d somehow end up talking, and that I could find comfort in her lying words, in a world inside my mind, where our relationship was eighty percent in my mind and twenty percent her using me to escape her own, fucked up world.
Driving through that neighborhood last night literally made me sick to my stomach. I was filled with such an utter and raw revulsion – the strength of it took me off guard, especially since I was on my medication.
It was the memories.
I have told you before that all that time was like living in a fever dream, like remembering a really bad, drunk night, where you made all the wrong decisions, and you’re left with fifty percent of the memory of what happened, but you’re filled with one hundred percent of the sickly cold vomitsweat feeling of guilt that no shower will ever completely wash away.
Do you believe me?
I really wonder if you believe me.
But it’s true.
It was the first time I had been in that neighborhood since … the end.
But I guess I should have known better.
Every stupid, reactive, hurtful thing I had said and done when my depression was at it’s worst had scorched the physical earth with psychic scars, creating emotional ghosts leaving many places haunted by the sticky and sickly sweet memory of my self-destructive cycle of hate-filled action followed by the inevitable reaction of sorrowful feelings – regret, guilt, disgust and self hate.
The after-feelings never went away.
Every time after I drove past a particular part of town, every time I entered a particular room, stood in a specific geographic location, the memory wave of what I had done along with all the accompanying feelings hit me and filled me, leaving me forced to experience the feelings of that emotional event all over again with cruel, startling clarity.
It was like an emotional crime scene.
It happened with you.
It happened with my ex-wife, too.
Laredo, McAllen, Edinburg, Alamo, South Padre Island, San Antonio, Austin.
South Texas was littered with haunted landscapes.
And the worst part was even with all of that, all of those constantly running, self-perpetuating crime scenes that ran viscerally in my head, in my emotional memory, those constant reminders, those “Ghosts of Bad Decisions Past” everywhere around me, serving as cautionary reminders that left me devastated and swearing and promising – to myself, and to you – that it would never happen again, I would still find myself repeating that cycle.
I would never learn.
I could never control myself.
I always found a reason to self-destruct and sabotage myself and my relationships, scarring my loved ones indelibly. Scarring you.
I promised you that I would never hurt you.
I assured you that I wasn’t like all those other guys.
And for a while, for a wonderfully beautiful long time – three years – I wasn’t.
Until I was.
Until all the pressures mounted, all the have tos.
Until my father getting sick.
Until knowing my father was never going to get better again, he was only going to get worse.
Until being a father to your girls.
Until having to care for you, with all your own mental illnesses, your needs.
Until there was nothing left of me because I gave everything I had to everyone I loved.
Until I realized how foolishly unprepared I was for the many responsibilities I took on.
Until all the things I loved began to turn into all the things I hated, leaving me bitter.
Until I started to feel misunderstood.
Until I started to feel trapped.
Until I found myself unable to talk to you anymore.
Until all I could do was shout, so I kept my mouth shut instead.
Until the constant beehive buzzing in my head and the blurred vision I had every time I saw you.
Until I got frightened and told you I couldn’t see or feel our love.
Until I started talking to her, who was all-too-willing to talk to me.
Until the end.
Until you found out.
Until I realized what you had already knew – that no matter how much your mind could understand, your heart could never forgive me.
And that was it.
Until in a vain hope to find out why I had done the things I had done, why I was the way I was, I found a therapist, and that lead to my finding a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and ADHD with mild OCD that I self-generated instinctively, to give my consciousness some sense of control.
I was happy then. I was relieved then. At last I had an explanation for all the whys of my life. The whys that made me repeat the same self-destructive cycles. The whys that made me hate myself, that filled me with self-loathing.
And I was prescribed medication to treat my illnesses. The medication was right for me. It worked. I changed my diet, drank less, exercised more. I was finally able to sleep, to finally sleep early and long enough to feel rested, balanced. And with the pain of my father passing, along with the slow-building clarity and self-control that came with managing my mental illnesses with consistently taking my medication, I got better.
But my heart was broken, because even though I got better, even though we both tried for awhile, our relationship was ruined. I had killed it. And my betrayal opened up all the old wounds and traumas you had tried to keep packed away. And I finally came to realize that even love can’t heal all – that some scars just run too deep. And finally I realized that you weren’t going to change, and that even though we still had love in our hearts, the illnesses in our heads would never allow us to be together again.
I realized that I had to let go.
I realized that the only hope I had left of us ever having even the slimmest chance of a possible reconciliation somewhere out in a vague future, was to cut myself off from you.
I realized what all the literature was saying was true: that we can only save ourselves.
I realized that now we are both on separate journeys.
Now, all I truly hope for is that you find your way, that you can use all your strengths to heal yourself.
So with time, medication, reflection, meditation, talking, writing, and thinking I achieved clarity. I saw clearly what my depression had done to me, what depression had taken away from me, how it tricked me and beguiled me and tortured and tormented me.
I had tried to be a good man. I tried to lead a good life. I tried to be a good boyfriend and friend to you. I tried to be a good father to your daughters. I tried to live the life of a gentleman.
My depression grabbed up all of that in one sweep of it’s oppressive, diseased, hallucinogenic hand and laughed blackly, looking wild-eyed at me like Frodo looking at Sam in the red heat of the Sammath Naur and told me, “Oh, you think you’re a gentleman, a good man? I’ll show you what you really are, motherfucker!” And with one squeeze my depression showed me.
It’s a dark moment when you truly see yourself for what you are, for all the things you’ve done, all the hurts you’ve caused yourself and those you love.
They say you are not your illness.
They say it does not define you, that it’s just a part of you.
It’s true, but it takes a lot of time to come to terms with all the things that I regret. I don’t feel the darkness in my mind anymore, though I’ve learned to accept it’s presence and respect the power it has. All of those haunted places, and the amassed baggage of negative emotions they contained, they’ve all faded away thanks to the medication.
And, if I do the math right, it’ll be three years come this September that I’ve been medicated.
Two months ago my psychiatrist told me that he was no longer worried about me. Last month, despite some tragic news of the death of someone who was dear to me, my psychiatrist told me that he was shocked. When I asked why he responded because despite the obvious pain I was in, not once during our follow up appointment did I once talk about me or what I was going through. I was talking only about others.
So it was a shock that by making that left turn into that neighborhood that I relived those feelings again.
But in reality I shouldn’t be surprised.
That place was ground zero for the worst part of my life.
It shook me.
So once I found myself in it, I drove as fast as I could. I tried to face forward, to not see too much in case every detail I’d glimpse would fill my mind with more memories, more emotions.
I made it out.
I made it home.
The feelings lingered there for a while.
I had just seen Annihilation earlier that day. It imprinted on me all of it’s surreal hallucinogenic and phantasmagoric beauty and terror, it’s sense of mental, emotional, and physical dislocation. It lingered with me long after I left the theater.
A line stuck with me, from a scene in the film where Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are talking, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who portrays a psychiatrist says, “Almost none of us commit suicide. And almost all of us self-destruct …”
I found it a curious thing that the line from the film and my near-disastrous detour coincided with one another.
The mind, the heart, the body, the soul – all need to be tended to carefully, and with love, lest our illnesses give power to our desire to self-destruct. The only way to avoid that is through self-care, nurturing, and growth gained by self-examination.
Next time, I’m driving straight.
And so I’m shedding another skin.
This one was dark but warm sleepy blue like grandfather’s cardigan, and it kept me from the cold.
It kept me sleeping.
I was in a fallow state along with trees in this strangest of South Texas winters.
There was actual snowfall here in Laredo.
A strange side effect of my ADHD medication is the intense state of hyper-focus it puts me in, and as an educator, I still mark the time the way children do – by the seasons, by the state-mandated school year calendar. It was through this that I saw my rebirth as a focused teacher; every school year was a different fixation, a specific and laser-like focus on one area of teaching. This year was all about my classroom.
I had a vision for my classroom, and the way I wanted to tailor every last bit of towards learner-centered, small group instruction, instead of the shackles of the front and center lecturing teacher.
It began my second week back. I began pulling twelve-hour days, going in at 6 AM and signing out by 6:45 – 6:50 PM. It left me drained, exhausted, and not wanting to go out for anything or anyone – except, on occasion, when my best friend would coax me out. Even then, half of my mind still yearned for home.
My focus was such that I’m just now coming out of it. I actually have the mental energy to write again.
Waking up is always a strange instinctual, mechanical business, though, isn’t it?
That strange segue from the dream state to waking life. Knowing that your mind was somewhere else for some amount of time – that past a gray-misted haze of a memory – as the present comes into slow and clear focus.
I’ve never been more acutely aware of my evolution as a human being since my depression and ADHD diagnosis and being on consistent and effective (for me) medication.
I’ve always loved learning – about myself, about the world – and now I’m getting a crash course in the education of myself as person in more control of his life than he’s ever been, as well as the world of mental illness.
I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning.
I know that I will continue evolving.
What a strange adventure this is, being human.
I am alone.
My brothers have taken my mom to spend Christmas Day with her sister and my cousins in San Antonio.
There are no lights on.
Only the darkening whitewashed water color grayblue of the fading light of the setting sun penetrates what windows it can and serves as the only major light source.
Aside from that, the Christmas tree lights are on, as well as the lights around the Nativity, the scene of the Christ-child in a manger, sleeping in swaddling cloth upon a bed of straw, with his mother Mary, Joseph, the step-dad to be shepherds, sheep of the flocks they keep, the Three Wise Men, and various livestock that would live in said manger. There is also the soft glow of the candles I’ve lit.
The light is warm, cozy.
I feel safe, calm, at peace.
The TV is off. The music I had been listening to on my headphones is off. Right now, there is only the constant whishing whisper duet of the central heater unit and the overhead fan as they work together in keeping the temperature in here a nice balance of warm and slightly chilly.
My head is free of thoughts.
I’m only focusing on the sound of the AC, the fan, and the gently wavering glow of the candlelit Nativity as it flickers softly.
The family plan was to drive up to San Antonio today, stay tomorrow, and leave Wednesday further north up I35 to Pflugerville, to visit my Brother and his family at Moore Manor – what we call the Pfluggervillian post of the Moore clan – His daughter – my baby niece – has a birthday coming up, and they were going to celebrate it Wednesday. I think by then I’ll be rested up enough to drive, spend the evening there, and then head back early Thursday morning.
I was also less inclined to leave due to the fact that I was up late last night from going to the Catholic midnight mass at La Catedral de San Agustín downtown. I haven’t gone since I was a child. It was beautiful. And worth it, but because I normally don’t stay up so late, it really took a toll on me this morning/afternoon. My mom woke me a little after noon, and I said my goodbyes.
Now it may sound bleak and depressing to you, maybe it sounds like a punishment even, but my depression doesn’t work that way.
To me, this is bliss.
Even though I am and can be a very social creature, who loves spending time talking and being in the company of others, it can also be exhausting – a characteristic common to both introverts and people with depression.
You see, I’m very empathic, I can sense the moods and tensions of those around me, and it physically affects me. I act like a human emotional sponge – I’ll soak up some of what you’re feeling and I’ll feel it too. It can be helpful sometimes, but others, it can be too much, so I have to pull in my sensory feelers and put up a barrier. And maintaining that requires an exhausting amount of energy. So, an empty house means a free me – no additional emotional energy to absorb or block. My shields are down. My guard is down. My sensory feelers can be fully extended and feel nothing.
All I’m feeling right now is a sleepy, relaxed state of bliss.
This is how I recover from my mental stressors: silence, calm, music, resting.
This is how I recharge, restore balance in myself.
But I’m not altogether about living the life of a monk. I began last Christmas building up my talismans, my weapons, my rituals for self-care: my skin care products, my soaps, my beard balms. I invested in that as well as my writing desk and my shelf to create my study.
Over the summer I did a lot more decorating to my room, and now, finally, I end this year with treating myself to the last of the items I wanted off of my list that I would enjoy. I bought a great pair of wireless Sennheiser over the ear headphones. They’re an excellent brand for audiophiles and I find the gentle pressure of over the ear headphones calming. I got a great deal on a 32″ Samsung Smart Hub TV. It’s HD only – not state of the art QLEV or anything like that, but it does have all my subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
I also bought myself a wireless sound bar plus a subwoofer, along with a Chrome book, but those haven’t arrived yet – also Samsung – also great deals since they were mid-range items and not top of the line.
And I didn’t even spend a thousand on all that. I love quality, but I’m no snob and I’m not stupid. I research and find the best quality I can get for the lowest possible price. With that, I can finally, fully enjoy my time at home, when I’m not reading, writing, painting, or playing the drums.
This is self-care. This is how I take care of myself. These are not substitutions for happiness nor are they status symbols signifying that I have “arrived” at some vague and unimportant level of “success,” showing that I’ve “made it.” No. These are merely the tools I choose to use as entertainments, as diversions.
These are the tools I choose to use to keep me even.
Tools that I was lucky enough to have some money for and that were just the right price for me to afford.
Now I’m forty-two. I’m single. I have no children, and I’ve been blessed to have a pretty decent paying career for almost fourteen years now. I can afford this.
But I have friends who are starting out, in college, or just finishing college, or just beginning their lives. Just like I have friends my age who are married and have kids or who are single parents who have kids, and you’re thinking, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
That’s not the point. The point is what feels good to you:
What recharges You?
Exercise? Quilting? Crossword puzzles?
My point is, it could be anything – as long as it does the trick.
Take care of yourself.
Put yourself first.
Now that doesn’t mean you get a green light to become totally self-absorbed and narcissistic, no. That just means that you must make time for you, so that your mind, body, and soul are refreshed and sharp, so that you may be able to properly take care of others. And even if you don’t have the terrible privilege of caring for somebody, still, don’t forget to make yourself a priority.
You deserve it.
These items that I’ve been blessed to treat myself to, they are all great gifts. But the greatest gift I’ve given myself this holiday season – as someone battling Major Depression, as a teacher to twenty-three sharp and intelligent students, as the past caregiver to my father, and as the future caregiver for my mother when the inevitable eventually happens – the one truly greatest gift, and the one I’ll get the most out of, the one I will remember the most, is an opportunity for silence, for rest, and for solitude.
“And the sleepiness kicks back in, this time more from sadness, the lethargy from my exhaustion from work is there, too. This very paragraph is where I’ve started writing, because I wanted to try and accurately describe how it feels, what I’m going through right now.
I simultaneously want to cry and fall asleep.
My eyes are closing while tears collect around the corners of my eyes.
And the feeling of falling away into the deep blue state of oblivion comes back strong.
I have to put my phone down now eyes can’t stay open.”
I wrote this yesterday, when I was grieving after receiving the news that another dear, sweet, older coworker had passed away from a heart attack.
About two weeks ago this evening I attended the memorial service that was held for a coworker, s kind, sweet, positive older woman, who finally succumbed to her six-year battle with cancer, leaving her husband – another coworker at our elementary school – and three children here on this plane of existence.
It was hard going to the service.
You see, lately I’ve been having a problem with funerals or memorial services for the deceased since my father lost his battle to liver and gall-bladder cancer.
I’m getting drowsy again. I wonder, is this my depression, wanting me to shut down and go to sleep because it’s too much to process – especially when my body is already recovering from the physical exhaustion of working too many hours at my campus? Is it just the physical exhaustion? Or is it a combination of both?
Depression is funny that way. Even medicated, it’s hard to tell where the depression ends and you begin.
Can’t keep my eyes open anymore.
Time to sleep.
My mom woke me.
I think ten-fifteen minutes have passed.
Right now I’m in the study/Music room in The Last Homely House, listening to a mix of modern throwback Christmas music by Pearl Jam, Sufjan Stevens, Dave Matthews and other Alternative, Indie, and singer-songwriter, along with some Beth Orton.
The study is filled with the clean gleam of gentle, natural sunlight, a sharp contrast to the midnight blue dark of my bedroom yesterday.
The grief has left for the most part, the lethargy has departed as well. Now it’s mostly a cozy church mouse sleepiness I’ve been feeling.
I got up at seven and did my Christmas shopping. I was done by 9:30 a.m.
So, slowly but surely, my forced bed rest is helping my energy to come back.
I live my life by the schedule of my sleep now.
Ever since I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and I discovered that lack of sleep really does cause a lot of damage for anyone with a mental illness – especially an untreated mental illness – I get as much sleep as I possibly can. And somehow, I knew this. As I grew older, it became harder and harder for me to be fully functional on five hours or less of sleep. My ex-girlfriend saw this firsthand. I became very emotional, very negative. I would joke that being in that state would make me suicidal – but that wasn’t far from the truth. I just wanted to drop everything and go to bed. I was a person who needed eight hours – seven minimum.
Now I’m a teacher. I have to be on campus by 7:30. My daily commute is thirty minutes. But I like getting to work early, even knocking out a kettlebell workout real quick. And I also like to make time to eat a good sit down breakfast, and watch a little CNN. So in order to do all that, I need to be up by 4. I try to be in bed by eight pm.
Regular weekend nights out no longer exist for me, even just staying up late reading, or watching TV – those are pleasures I can simply no longer indulge in.
But sleep, glorious, languid descents into the deepest, darkest caverns of Oblivion – a darkness so complete, I rarely remember my dreams – that is a pleasure I now long for daily.
It’s funny, but I had to change the person I was to save the person I could be, the person I’m supposed to be. And there’s still more changing I need to do.
But the sedentary, junk-food-eating, unfocused night-owl is dead.
Because all that I did and was doing to myself was making me miserable physically and mentally. I was like a smoker with lung cancer, a diabetic who kept eating sugary sweets. I was doing everything that would exacerbate my depression and ADHD.
So that part of me – which seemed like such an integral part of me, like it was tied to my identity – had to die.
I had to do two things which terrified the fuck out of me:
Die and Change.
Death and Change.
I see that now, those two phases are essential to the cycle of life, to the cycle of your evolution as a human.
And it requires rest and recovery. That’s what I’m doing – that’s what I’ve been doing ever since my father and my old life died. That’s why I barely go out. That’s why I sleep. That’s why I spoil myself. A part of me knows another change, another phase of my life is about to begin, and this one involves me finally doing continuous exercise and ends with me quitting the regular drinking, until I don’t drink at all. So instinctively my body is resting. I’m like a field in the winter, laying fallow.
We have to change, we have to die, we have to let go of all the things we make ourselves feel we need that help define our identity but are toxic to us.
We die either way at the end.
The question is how do you want to go?
As your true, whole, happy self?
Or as a sickly, angry, used shadow of yourself?
These recent deaths are terrible. They are terrible in different ways. One family saw it coming, so there was time to prepare despite hope, but a sixty-year-year-old man has lost his life partner for good, and he will have to raise his teenage girls and older son on his own. The other family lost their matriarch suddenly, quickly – and cruelly – right before Christmas. Things will never be the same.
They won’t. And it’s terrible. But there is always hope that families can get past that void.
Five years ago, my mother, myself, and my siblings could not imagine a world without our father. But living here, in the same house – even after I practically moved in with my ex-girlfriend, I knew something was going to happen. I knew something was wrong. So I set my mind to abandoning the life I had built with my ex, moving back in with my parents, and waiting for the time when he would get so sick, he’d need constant tending to. I set my mind so hard to it, I became fatalistic – And that triggered the worst depressive episode I’d gone through.
Bad judgement, lack of communication, lack of compromise – that’s what killed my relationship. Then her discovering an emotional relationship I had begun with a very unprofessional ex-assistant principal is what cut us off for good.
Our relationship died. Who we were died, but it took me killing it to see that I had mental health issues that needed diagnosing and treating.
My life has been a constant shedding of skins that I never expected to shed and that I truly thought were me.
My mother, my whole family has. We’ve had to adjust to the changes. And we move on, our lives now tinged with the memory of my father’s death.
Death and Change.
Nothing is permanent.
The only thing that can be permanent is your understanding and acceptance of that one truth: nothing is permanent.
Who you are.
What you have.
The material and immaterial things that you think define you – they can, and probably will, change in an instant. We just don’t know when.
Life is change.
Life is impermanence.
Life is a work in progress that you truly never get to complete.
To some reading this, the news might terrify the hell out of you, but that’s not my intention. That’s not my takeaway.
The takeaway is: know this, so you can live the life you want, your way, for yourself, without having to answer to anyone.
Life is precious.
And it’s yours, to do with what you will.
And for those who may be depressed during this season, please understand, it’s all about perspective.
This day is not supposed to be about gifts, how many and how much.
This is day is not supposed to be about family – even when it’s good – because most of us know that’s a lie, that family are the first, and sadly sometimes, the only ones who truly hurt, abandon, and betray us.
Today, well, this evening, marks the occasion where a working-class man decided to have the back of a Woman he loved who had a child who was not his own. This couple was on the run and the only shelter they could find for themselves and this child was a poorly manger, a shelter for animals. Shepards, some Wise Men, an angel. A strange collection all, strangers all, who were all probably laughed at, but who stopped, and made their way to see a child, to see life, despite it’s cruel miseries.
The story of this occasion does not exemplify an ideal of being satisfied living in a world of material excess. Far from it – the materially rich in this story were represented by an insecure, jealous king who decided to murder all the male babies he could find in fear of the rise of this one particular child.
No. This is a story of looking down at your feet, at looking up over your head, at looking into the mirror, and seeing an imperfect survivor living an imperfect life on the run the best way you can manage – and saying, “I’m alive. This is now and I’m alive.”
So, yeah, there’s death, there’s change, but there’s also rest, and recovery. The tree drops it leaves and grays, then splays out in a thousand shades of undulating emerald a season later.
It’s about rest and seasons and time, and simply being.
Amidst all the sexy, shiny, glossy screens telling you, showing you:
YOU NEED THIS.
YOU MUST HAVE THIS.
YOU MUST BE LIKE THIS,
You have fulfilled their purpose in this manufactured illusion of “gotta have gotta buy!” and perverted inversion of an ancient tale that taught an important lesson and you have forgotten THE most important thing:
YOU are the gift.
I wasn’t planning on seeing it today.
I was planning on saving it for next Saturday, the first Saturday of my two-week Christmas break, as a Beginning-of-Break treat.
I save certain science fiction/fantasy action adventure films for the IMAX 3D screen at the Santikos Palladium movie theater across I10 from Six Flags Fiesta Texas. I have to budget them out, because it’s a pricey ticket. I wasn’t a fan of 3D cinema before, but since taking my ex-girlfriend there to see Ridley Scott’s Prometheus back when it premiered, and I saw it done right on a proper screen, I was sold.
Then all the hype came out about The Last Jedi, the positive praise, the urgings to see it before all those idiots who have made spoiling surprises just so they can “Be In The Know” and hold that feeling priority over some people’s love of surprise.
But I’ll save my thoughts and choice words on the Gotta-Know-First-And-Blurt-Spoiler-Obsessed and their ilk for another blog. But all the hype made me decide to scrounge up enough cash for the ticket.
It was, of course, fantastic, giving this life-long fan of Star Wars everything I wanted in a Star Wars film in a way I wasn’t expecting – and I loved it.
There were so many laugh out loud and cheer- or applause-worthy moments, I was surprised and a little disappointed when the rest of the crowd was silent. Such was the majestic awesomeness of Rian Johnson’s vision, that I didn’t care, and I did my own golf-clapping, laughing, and toned-down cheers.
Afterwards, already in a state of positive euphoria, I stopped at ULTA Beauty Supply to pick up my grooming and skin care products, a cologne.
I started using men’s skin care products almost a year to day, after my friend Elsa did my make-up for my role as Egeus in a local theater production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A small part of using the products was it’s obvious benefits, but a major part of the ritual was my physically applying them to my face.
In better times, my ex-girlfriend would often spontaneously stroke my face, the top of my head, to continual delight and pleasure. Her shows of affection made me feel so loved, so special. I had known for a while that I was a person who needed a lot of physical contact.
Now that I’m single, I’m not ashamed to admit that I miss it terribly. So my nightly skin care regimen became an essential component of my self-care ritual, and gave me a good excuse to give myself the physical contact I craved.
So it was a nice treat to stock up on all the “essentials.”
In Martin Brest’s 1992 film, Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino plays a blind war veteran who, along with Chris O’Donnell, visits New York, and embarks on a series of adventures and fine experiences. In the film he refers to it as a “tour of pleasures.”
I’ve since taken up that phrase to refer to my day trips to San Antonio or my weekend concert-goin trips to Austin.
At this point on my Tour of Pleasures, having eaten nothing but a couple of bananas and some Starbucks on the road after a two hour drive and a movie that was over two hours long, then shopping st ULTA, I was starving. I wanted to find something delicious to eat.
Then I remembered Maggiano’s Little Italy.
It’s a higher end chain – better than Johnny Carino’s (which I love) and Olive Garden (which I hate). But it was in the same sprawling shopping/entertainment center as the Palladium and ULTA.
I entered, approached the lady in the front, and asked for any available table or small booth. She told me that it would be a thirty to forty-five minute wait, but if I wanted to, there was space at the bar area. I jumped at that, and I was lucky enough to find a small nook in a small, secluded corner of the bar.
There was one young girl running the area, but I really didn’t care. I sat there, reading articles off of my Flipboard app and doing some writing.
By the time I got her attention, it was a little while longer till she brought me bread and oil and a glass of water. Before she was off again, I ordered. I wanted to enjoy a glass of red, but I wanted to something different. She recommended a pinot noir (Paul Giamatti’s voice from Sideways, echoing in my mind about pinot) and brought me a sample. It was complex enough and not too dry so I went ahead and ordered the nine ounce serving along with their version of the ultimate comfort food, “Mom’s Homemade Lasagna.”
The pinot and lasagna in the warm setting of Maggiano’s was the perfect counterpoint to the forty-three degree temperature and gray, miserable rain outside; me reading articles off of my phone, writing my Daily Meditation, and just taking breaks to eat, breath, close my eyes and enjoy being right inside the moment.
Just being in the moment.
The whole time, walking in my winter gear, waiting and wading amidst all the pre-Christmas shopping throngs, lines, and traffic. At times, beautiful women and pretty girls would look at me and smile. I looked them right in the eye, smiled back and went on my way.
Smiled, that’s what I was doing, mostly the entire time, smiling because I was happy.
Happy to be swimming among humanity, to be free and untethered, on my own time doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
Just happy to be.
Purely, simply happy.
No phantom limb pain.
I smiled, happy, content, and not caring or worrying about, not giving a single thought to who I was or wasn’t with.
I was with me.
I was present.
I was in the moment.
Simply enjoying being.
Setting Up. Back in the Pocket.
This is a story (Saga, now, really, at this point. Saga? Maybe that’s a little too much. It was a three day weekend. “Saga” is a more apt term for how long it’s taking me to complete writing this and posting it. Maybe Odyssey is more appropriate, but without all that pesky “hexameter-“epic-poem stuff) of self-discovery, of being wronged, and realizing that you yourself were wrong, of forgiveness, of healing, of honesty, of acceptance, of letting go, of enlightenment, and finally realizing who you are and what your true purpose in life is – and, of course, rock and roll.
All of this is true.
All of this really happened.
This segment of My Time at the Music House contains graphic descriptions of drum kit set-ups, some technical jargon, some imprecise musical vocabulary terms – since I am neither a classically-trained musician nor am I guitarist, and scenes of descriptive, graphic consensual musical interplay among three grown men.
Gathered the sheets. Folded them up. Stacked them. Air bed lifted up.
Some of that beautiful furniture was arranged at an angle, not tucked, aligned corner to corner. I pushed it flush against the wall then I pushed it towards the front door, opening up the floor space, allowing myself as much room for my kit as possible.
Marce had told me not to bring my whole kit. The house was small which made the living room (our recording/jamming space) small. But there was no way I was going to simply take a basic set-up. This is Ryan we’re talking about here. Ryan Fucking Mitchell. Even Marce’s solo pieces, which I had played with him before, called for my whole drum kit – including all my percussion instruments.
I mean, the last time I played with the pair of them, I sucked, terribly. Of course, I was around seventeen-eighteen then. I had barely just got my hands on a kit, and I hadn’t really had practiced on one for the first seventeen-eighteen years of my life. And during my time living in the valley for close to twenty years, I had no drum kit – and it killed me.
My new drum kit, a Pearl Forum Series, I purchased in 2006. It was a floor model, but it was in top condition, and a steal at $500. Just recently, over the last five years, I was able to invest in additions and upgrades to it.
I wanted to be ready and able to paint with every tool I had at my disposal when the three of us finally got together to jam.
It sucks being a drummer.
When you’re a guitarist, you really don’t have much to set up. You have your axe, the case it comes in, your strap, your amp, and if you’re into it, then you have your pedals.
But a drummer, that’s a whole other beast entirely. I have a five-piece drum set, which means I have a bass drum, two tom-tom drums mounted on top of the bass, a floor tom, and a collection of different snare drums. I have a set of double bass drum beater pedals with wooden custom-made Low-Boy beaters, which I love. I have high-hats, two crash symbols, a ride with a nice amount of wash, a hybrid ride, and a holey China symbol – all along with their stands. I also have three splash symbols, a pitch block, a small timbale, and an Alo bell. That’s my kit.
Then there’s my percussion: a cajón, bongo cajón, claves, tambourine, foot tambourine, shaker, maracas, and sleigh bells.
I was ready.
So, after moving the furniture, I took my meds, had a quick breakfast, and commenced with setting up.
As I was doing so, Ryan arrived.
He came in, looking washed out with his pale skin, off-white t-shirt, olive-gray baseball cap, and olive-gray shorts.
Time is funny, and cruel – and often both at the same time. Not so with the three of us. At least, not so much. While Marce and I lost our hair (I had won that race pretty early on. Yay me.) Ryan, of course, still has his full head of beautiful blonde locks, a bit of a grayish tinge to them, but it definitely adds a bit of a dignified look – and I suspect, has always been the source of his musical genius. Slight wrinkles like the rest of us, but aside from that, he looks just as be did in high school, his blue eyes glinting as they always did with equal parts intelligence and humor.
We hug. Examine ourselves briefly, taking about the same time to catch up.
I’m halfway done setting up, so I hurriedly get about getting back to it, trying to talk and set up at the same time, which proves difficult for me to do, since I didn’t get enough sleep, which makes it a bit harder to concentrate – even with my ADHD medication.
So I basically shut up and focus on the task at hand while Marce and Ryan tune up and review the riffs they worked on yesterday afternoon when I was supposed to be there. A tightening of a screw here, an adjustment of a symbol stand there, a quick tuning of my drum heads and it’s away we go.
I wondered how it would be playing with Marce again. Had what I told him, how I felt about him, severely damaged or severed completely our connection?
But then they started off the riff, and, with a breath, I just stepped right into the pocket
Pure joy fills me as I lay down the beat, leaving nothing back, punching it hard and sharp and trying to keep the tempo tight.
I don’t play light and soft. I love jazz drumming, but I’m not a jazz drummer. Neither am I a speed freak death metal slasher. I’m naturally a feel/groove player in the mold of the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. I have strong wrists and ankles, though I usually do punch the kick (bass) drum with the force of lifting my knee up and down.
I’m definitely not the most skilled drummer – not even in Laredo, TX, my hometown. I don’t play perfect. As with everything else that I loved to do, all my passions or fascination or talents, a swirling, mercurial, muddied mix of my ADHD and my Depression never allowed me to follow through on any consistent practice. I did what everyone else with a mental illness or cognitive impairment, I did the best I could with what I have. And what I have is passion, feeling, emotion – I have my heart, and I use it as I use it in my writing, in my teaching. That’s what I bring to the Music. Passion and joy – like the best parts of my father.
Of course, constant playing in the band a group of friends has formed since 2010 has built up my skill level. And now that I am medicated, I have begun to practice more regularly, so, little by little.
But I just let loose, reading Marce, feeling in sync with him, anticipating the changes, while finally adding my own contributions – playing with time signatures and off-time fills, speeding up the tempo, slowing it down.
We were on fire. The energy was there. The connection between us had never left. It was just waiting for the three of us to finally get back into one room.
And before we knew it, we were done.
Ryan had to do some work, so before he had to leave, we walked over to a local neighborhood Mexican restaurant.
We talked more and ate plenty. So we walked back and Ryan went home.
We rested, and then Marce called his brothers.
And that’s when things got wild.
Next week (pinky promise):
Old, Good Friends. Brothers. Reunions and Revels.