Note: to drummers, when you’re playing and you feel locked in to the groove, playing not only on beat, but feeling that you are in the beat, and can manipulate it with fills and rolls of all speeds, and still land back on that beat without throwing the song off rhythm.
It’s a curious sensation, knowing that I can talk about myself, my life, with absolute clarity.
I take it for granted now.
Which is also its own kind of weird.
I’m able to talk about my life matter-of-factly.
I don’t talk about it to get pity. I don’t speak about it with frustration or rage. I’m not trying to make myself look like a saint.
I am grounded by the knowledge that I have no desire to please or impress others anymore.
My life is.
My life was.
Facts. Not emotion. Not sentiment. No color commentary.
The suffering I went through was mine. I made my choices. And I faced the consequences of those choices, good or ill.
And I don’t really know if it’s due to the three years of taking my medication for my adult ADHD and Major Depression finally taking effect, or if it’s the strength I gained from taking care of my father – or some combination of both.
But I’m in the moment.
I’m in the now.
I’m present, current. There’s no “what ifs” or “I should’ves.” There’s also no “one day I’ll” or “someday,” either.
And maybe, some of you might consider that a bad thing, and, depending on your circumstance, you may be right.
But I ride the waves.
I feather the wind.
For the first time in my life, I focus on what’s in front of me, and addressing it, paying attention to it. As a result, it’s incredibly satisfying dealing with things as they come when they come, instead of ignoring it or trying to rewrite the narrative.
What a strange pleasure it is, and a metaphorical irony, playing drums for most of my life, and at forty-three, finally being in the pocket.
I’m laying down on my bed as I write this, surrounded by pillows, covered in one of the most comfortable blankets in our home ( it was in a closet, no one was using it, so now it’s mine – no harm, no foul ), my go-to comfortable slouchy beanie on my head.
I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, looking at all the people I follow, and, since it’s January 1st, 2019, reading the occasional but unavoidable posts on New Year resolutions.
I left the site.
You see, after I was diagnosed with Major Depression and adult ADHD, and after talking to my psychiatrist and my friends and family, I realized three things about myself:
– Being on social media for long periods of time becomes a sensory and information overload for me.
– I’m an empathetic person.
– I’m a natural problem solver.
I’ve always been a pretty good speed reader since I was a child, but now that I’m on my ADHD medication, I can take in and process a greater amount of information a lot faster.
So, with that particular combination, taking in and processing too much information and/or too much emotional information means that my head becomes filled with people’s problems that I either want to solve, or that I feel terrible about, and I know there’s nothing I can do about it.
So, what’s the point of all this?
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.
I definitely believe that the very nature of the winter/holiday season lends itself to self-reflection, self-assessment.
Nature lies dormant, weathering out the cold until the sun’s warmth returns. All we see around us are ( mostly ) bare trees, slate gray skies, snow, if you’re lucky.
The calendar year, arbitrarily beginning in January, in the middle of seasonal winter, also forces us to feel as if we only have three hundred and sixty-five days to undergo some sort of amazing transformation, and as a result, forces us to feel as if we are some kind of failure in the eyes of our peers.
Social media only heightens this perceived pressure.
Many movies and shows make us feel that our lives are supposed to have a clear, definite beginning, middle, and end.
So after struggling for years, we’re told that we are supposed to overcome our problems, our weaknesses, our illnesses, our addictions, in a much shorter span of time, then proclaim ourselves free, new and improved, washed clean of the stains of our personal problems.
People in the public eye, be they celebrities or politicians, love to broadcast that narrative, and by doing so, make us believe that it’s the norm.
I don’t know about you, but I hate deadlines.
I love guidelines, but deadlines are crap.
Having depression has made me realize that growth is not a linear thing.
Spending time out in my backyard almost every day for the past year and a half, watching the leaves and flowers sprout and bloom, wither and fall, then sprout and bloom again, watching the constellations revolve above me, has taught me that growth is cyclical.
Growth is not linear.
That idea was the creation of some white scientist centuries ago whose belief system was a locked, rigid, racist, classist, patriarchal ideology. That idea, that way of thinking, is wrong.
Growth is cyclical.
We set a goal for ourselves. We often invariably fail at least once, if not more. We achieve that goal. But it’s rarely ever just one goal at a time. It’s many.
It’s growth in our careers, yes, but it’s also growth within ourselves, and without.
Growth in our interpersonal relationships.
Growth as men and women.
Growth in realizing our gender and sexual identity.
Growth in realizing just where exactly it is we belong on this insane planet, third from the sun.
Growth in being a good person to those who are good to you.
Growth in realizing the harmful, toxic behaviors we learned through nurturing by our parents, guardians, parent figures; and then trying to break ourselves free from those behaviors so we don’t hurt our loved ones the way we were hurt. The way our parents or parent figures hurt each other.
Growth is spirals.
It’s tree rings, stacked from its base, from its roots, raising high up towards the sky.
We grow in spirals.
And, more often than not, our growth process is represented as many spirals, rising and falling, loosening and tightening, as we try to discover and learn and figure out and master all the complex aspects of ourselves.
We spiral upward. We fall down, and we get back up again.
I have never followed the crowd.
I do things when I want to do them.
I do things when I am ready to do them.
And when I do, I do them slowly, over time.
But I do them.
I do not measure my success by the successes of others. I measure my success by how and what I do today versus how and what I did yesterday.
I forgive myself.
I analyze and see what went wrong, what I can do differently – not better.
Then I rise again.
And I don’t stop.
I may take breaks, but I never stop. I meditate. I try to keep my mind present. I always ask myself:
“Is what I’m doing truly making me happy?”
“Is what I’m doing hurting anyone?”
And I adjust, as needed. I take time to make sure I do everything I have to do, to learn everything I have to learn, to practice everything I have to practice.
But I do it at my pace, for myself, and not for anyone else, and definitely not so I can crow about it on social media.
So, do you honestly believe that pushing yourself doggedly, cruelly, without ever taking a moment to stop, enjoy, and feel the fulfillment of achieving a goal is going to create a kinder, happier, more loving you?
Instead of making resolutions that, by definition, are designed to fail, designed to make you feel terrible about yourself, don’t you think that you should simply work on being the best person you can be every day?
Don’t you think that’s better than saying, “Oh well, I’ll just try next year,” the very first time you break your resolution – in February?
Don’t you think you should do it in small, achievable steps?
Don’t you think you should nurture yourself?
Don’t you think you should be more patient, more kind to yourself?
Don’t you think you should be more forgiving with yourself?
Don’t you think you deserve it?
I know you do.
There is always beauty.
That is all that is left.
So many times in my life, I thought I had come to the end of me.
So many times, I thought I had broken myself, into pieces too brittle and infinitesimal, to ever believe that I could put myself back together again.
So many times I thought I had broken those I loved, those who loved me.
So many times I felt the cold hollow cave made of stone and frost and filled with a chill wind that blew eternal in the pit of my stomach, the sum total of all the lies I told, of all the hearts I broke, of all the oaths I abandoned.
So many times.
But that last, that last was worst of all …
Lost to the dark.
Alone, in a ball, in a hole, in a wall, in the deepest darkest crack I could slither in, and crawl.
So many times.
So many times.
And then …
A glimmer …
A glimpse …
I would open my eyes.
Dry, burning, bloodshot, blurry, and red.
And I would look up.
And the height, the height of just where I fell from.
It was so high.
I had fallen so far.
All that trust built.
Smashed to bits with a single action, a cruel word.
But I would get up, like I had all those countless times before and my spine felt so weak and all I felt inside cold wind and hollow.
And I would get up.
My stomach would spasm reflexively from all the ragged crying and my eyes burned.
And I would get on my knees, scarred and pitted from gravel digging in, from years of gravel digging in, digging all the way into my cartilage.
I would wait there, gasping, until that pain was too much, and I would reach out and grasp that first rock again, with cracked hands that split from countless cold December nights when my hands were soaked wet from bleach and piss and mop water and Fabuloso and Murphy’s Oil Soap, from countless nights of cleaning and wiping and scrubbing, and I would begin the slow climb, back up to the top, back up, to the light.
And so I would grab another.
So many falls.
And so many climbs.
So many promises made.
So many promises broken.
So many scars, from within, from without.
Holding the hand of the one whose heart I broke.
What else could I do?
I couldn’t stay down there.
Not when I was needed up here.
Not when, if I couldn’t make us better, if I couldn’t heal us and make us whole, I could at least help you.
Help you get through.
At least I could do that.
So I did.
And those whose hearts I’d hurt, saw that I did my best to heal.
I left, but I did my best to heal.
I left, and I hoped that they had healed.
And to my surprise, they did.
As sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as day follows night.
As raw and red and as certain as the dawn, or a healing wound.
And time would pass, just as sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as sunshine follows rain.
And, with that passing left the pain.
And those who I made cry, I now made laugh.
I repaired what I could, and now, gray-bearded and older, I keep my vigil.
I watch and I care and I protect.
But I stay away.
And I marvel that in the passing, the pain fades away, like shadows melt away at dawn, and with that growing dawn light, in that shining sunlight, only the beauty is left revealed.
And nights, dark and dim they may be, are now just nights, because now I have the knowledge that the sun still shines on the other side of the world.
Nights reveal starlight, and moonshine, and the reflective glimmer of cats’ eyes.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt people, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt myself, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
And I know this, and I will never forget – I have managed my depression.
I have named my demon and I have locked it within a faux-gold-covered wooden box.
And I will never open it up.
For I know this – with time and work and the healing-fevered pain of resetting bones, all the bad fades away.
Fades away, but does not dissipate.
It is always an ever-present reminder.
But what comes to the foreground, what comes into focus?
The pain, the dark fades away.
All that’s left is beauty.
The dying bee landed on my chest.
It fell seemingly from nowhere.
At first I didn’t know that it was a bee. Nor did know that it was dying – yet.
A cloud of flies and mosquitoes skimmed and buzzed about me as I lay on our outdoor patio sofa as if I was an Imperial Cruiser under attack from Rebellion fighters. They didn’t really bother me. I didn’t really feel anything. I was numb and drowsy from the day, from pipe tobacco smoke, from dragon smoke. My mind wandered far afield.
About two weeks ago, during a lull between the constant rain showers that came with the hurricane storm systems from the Texas Gulf, I took advantage of the semi-fair weather and brought out the sofa cushions to laze about on my Saturday afternoon.
The mosquitoes and flies had the same idea, apparently.
I did feel the small but substantial thump on my chest.
I did see the small insect bounce off my chest and arc down onto the patio concrete.
My senses weren’t so completely numb to make me believe that it was a huge fly.
It took me a second to register that what I had saw and felt was a bee.
I looked down from the sofa. The bee crawled around the cracked concrete of the patio. Something was wrong with it. One of it’s wings was opening and closing slowly, out of sync with the other.
You know that cliché about staggering drunkenly? That’s exactly what the bee was doing, in circles, and leaning to one side. I reached down and as gingerly as I could try to help right itself with my index finger. It didn’t help.
You see, I had held bees before.
Many bees had entered my classroom, and being a teacher of children, their reaction, after shrieking in fright or delight, is always to swat it or crush it. But I don’t want to encourage that in my students. I want to encourage them to have a healthy respect for all living things. So I would just quickly but calmly reach for it, and let it land on my hand, let roam about. I would explain to them that bees only sting when they feel threatened, which they do anytime anyone projects their fear and shrieks.
I would show them how harmless they could be if they were treated gently and with respect, then I would open my classroom door and then open the door that led outside ( I’ve been lucky to have a classroom right by the hallway exit) and release it.
I don’t like killing living creatures – even insects. If they look dangerous, and are in my house, then I do, because I don’t want to risk my mother being bitten by something poisonous. Call it guilt-ridden anxiety. But bees are fine.
Except this particular bee was obviously not, however.
The bee flipped upside down. My own buzz was just making it worse. I tried to calm myself and focus – I didn’t want to damage it’s wings. After a few more attempts I sat up and reached down with both hands. I was finally able to get the bee onto my hand.
I studied it, sadly. It was dying. The thumping landing on my chest made sense now.
A thought occurred to me then.
My older brother had had a really bad weekend a week prior to this. He and his partner had moved back down to Laredo from San Antonio three years ago to help care for my father who had been diagnosed with terminal gall bladder and liver cancer, and they have stayed ever since. But like any couple moving from their own home in which they lived alone for years back into the home of a parent, their space has become limited.
I’d been in that situation before – my ex-wife and I had to share living spaces with her mother and their family many times over the eighteen-year period we were married. Those times were at best, manageable. So the cabin-fever brought on by days of rain culminated that weekend prior.
Then there was the squirrel.
Later that week my brother had told me that the tipping point for that weekend was a squirrel. He had found a dead squirrel out in the front of our house. He had found something to wrap it in and placed it in our trash bin outside.
Later the thought had occurred to me why he hadn’t buried it – I would’ve gladly helped – but in retrospect the idea of burying the poor creature would have been too much for him. After dad, the aspects and realities of death and dying affected all of our family in varying and unexpected ways.
I laid the bee gently down on the blue seat cushion, where my ashtray, pipe, and pipe tobacco rested, making sure it was placed so that it would not fall off again. I thought of my brother and his weekend from Hell before. I hesitated a moment. Then I texted him to come outside quickly.
This felt right.
He came outside to the backyard. I held the bee out towards him in my hand, showing him, and I told him. It’s dying, help me place it somewhere safe so it will die in peace, without fear of being eaten.
Where, he asked.
I looked about our backyard – and I saw one of the bushes growing lush with bright yellow bell blossoms, the wells inside of which would keep it well-hidden from predators or from falling back onto the unforgiving lawn.
I handed him the bee. Place it in there, I told him. With both hands out, he took it. We walked over to the bush, found an upright bell with a sturdy stem. My brother placed it gently inside. There you go, he said softly. The bee slid gently into the well.
There, I said, a fine place for a bee to rest. Then I hugged my brother. Karma, I told him, a little light to drive away the dark. A little positive energy to counter the negative.
The moment passed. We stepped apart to let the space of the world back in. I told him that I was still going to hang out here and smoke for awhile longer. He said okay. He went back inside.
I love my older brother.
We clash, of course. We wouldn’t be brothers otherwise. But he’s been both father and mother to me countless times, when my parents couldn’t. He’s been my sounding board ever since he moved back and I had to admit to him my weaknesses that my Major Depression and ADHD brought about – even when medicated. He’s been the voice of reason in my head the few times I stood too close to the edge, and brought me back.
We’re ten years apart. He’s now fifty-three while I’m forty-three – the oldest and the youngest in our family.
He still looks out after me.
The least I can do help his spirit when it sinks.
The least I can do is remind him that there is still some magic in this world, faded though it is.
The least I can do is look after him for all the times he’s looked out after me.
I always will.
He’s my brother.
What I’m listening to:
Human Qualities by Explosions in the Sky.
Rainy days always put me in a thoughtful mood – more so than usual.
Rain drops falling steadily like tears …
Not the tears of a broken heart, but healing tears, as you make up after a fight with your lover.
Not tears of hopelessness, but tears of relief, after the test results come back negative.
Rain brings growth. Rain cleanses. Once the rain stops, the sun, eventually, emerges, and shines.
Rain is a mug of good, hot coffee. Tea, mellow, thoughtful and sweet – like your favorite friend.
Rain is reading good books curled up on the couch.
Rain is listening to music while you stare out at the graygreen world.
Buried under blankets, hugging a pile of pillows, watching your favorite movies.
Rain offers us a break from mad dashing to and fro from the self-imposed prisons we call life, responsibilities, obligations.
Rain says, take a break, I got this. You’ll just be in my way.
Rain forces us to be together, to talk about what’s been bothering us, to tell “Remember when” stories, makes us laugh.
Rain reminds us gently of Mother Nature’s power, gently puts us back in our place, keeps our ever-growing selfish sense of self-importance in check.
Rain forces us to pause and be thoughtful. To take stock of our lives, to slow down, to breathe.
The smell of rainy days, to me, are like the smell of fall and winter – it’s the scent of being in love, the scent of being alive, the scent of living.
How many great poems were written, because of rainy days?
How many great songs composed?
How many great novels were inspired by rainy days just like this?
How many loves, friendships, solidified, during rainy days?
Rainy days are magic.
I came downstairs this morning.
I said good morning to my mother.
It’s an ugly day outside, she said.
I looked out the kitchen window to our backyard. The rain had turned our Laredo dry grass into a verdant and lush paradise, an enchanted forest.
I was alive, so was my mom – so were my brother and his partner.
We had safety and shelter from the storm.
We have survived so much.
Death, mental illness, physical illness, arguments, fights, spats, conflicts, disagreements – survived them all, and helped heal afterwards. A glacier’s pace often, but forward motion is still moving forward. And we’ve grown closer because of it.
My depression has mellowed with my medication.
So much life.
I stared out, lulled by the repetition of steady falling raindrops.
It’s so beautiful, I said.
What I’m listening to now:
On the Warm Side by Mimicking Birds.
Is it weird that I’m forty-three years old and I feel the most comfortable, the most “myself,” like this?
Is it weird that I feel like I truly do not fit into any category – especially as a straight male – and so I feel like I do not fit into this world?
Is it weird that I feel like I’m too young to be this old, while at the same time I feel like I’m too old to be this young?
Is it weird that my teenage boy heart that used to beat to the pounding truth of Pearl Jam beats to the pinning, yearning punch of Snail Mail now that I’m a forty-three year old man?
Is it weird?
Or is it me, in my isolation?
Do you feel like me?
Do you feel alone because you don’t feel like you “fit” into any acceptable social “category?”
Is it weird?
Am I wrong?
Am I not alone?
If so, I would really love to know it.