And one more thing...

There might be some personal nonsense in here, too...


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My smart, talented friends inspire, entertain, and destroy me...


Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.

This post is pure catharsis; you have been warned...

I'm thankful for more than my share of disparate, interesting friends.  I've inherited more than I've earned, and many are better cataloged as acquaintances, but I'll take it — right-wing, left-wing, a number of faiths and un-faiths, most flavors of orientation and gender identity, spanning the adult age spectrum and of varying height.  (I could do with greater racial diversity, and hope that will happen as I transition into a more arts-based lifestyle.)  The professional and avocational skills represented are equally wide-ranging — linguistics, biotech, glass blowing and manufacturing, classics, health care and homeopathy, all sorts of engineering, every area of theater craft, the gamut of I.T., marketing, law, fine art, library science, dance, theology, creative writing, brewing, etc.  And to my mixed delight, music.
 Why "mixed"?  Ah.  That's where Mr. Vidal and I intersect.  More on that in a bit.  First, let me introduce a handful of these fine folk.

On the "classical" side, there's Melissa Dunphy, very much an acquaintance.  Please enjoy her site, read of her unusual background, and check out her music, acting, and other goings-on.  I met her a couple years ago after cajoling her into lunch to talk shop — she's almost twenty years my junior, yet I sought her as mentor when I first considered Usher.  She's very talented, yes, but also has more experience and training, not to mention national and international recognition.  Ironically, she earned her undergrad degree at the same music school I attended, and even worked with a few of the same professors, but has certainly mined that to greater effect.  Her wife-and-husband pop duo Up Your Cherry is no slacker, either.  She's a triple threat now, and will soon add theatre management to her CV.

On the "pop" side, there's Hot Breakfast! and The Joe Trainor Trio, who continue to rack up fans, followers, and f-awards.
 A couple years ago, JT3 created a video for their original, Keeping Up the Pace.  I know about a quarter of the people in it.  (I was asked to be in the background, but I'm camera-shy.)  It wasn't hard for them to find goombahs to assist — they're active around the region, put on big to-dos at local stages, and work quite a bit with Wilmington's City Theater Company (including an original musical).  So a lot of connections and coampadres from the music and theater scenes.  They've worked hard and earned every one.  It's always great seeing them live — lotsa that "energy" the kids keep talking about.
 What HB! lack in trio-ness they make up for in duo-titude.  No lip-service I write will do justice to their slick, sick shtick.  As much comedy as music, as much honesty as hilarity, as much dye as scalp — treat yourself to a live show.  They're also very involved in the local arts scene, and sowed what they're reaping now.  Generous to other artists, wholly professional...  It doesn't get much classier than Hot Breakfast!

I'm very happy for everyone here, doing what they love, loving what they do, building reputations and legacies.  But it makes me feel kinda lousy, too, to Mr. Vidal's point.
 It's humbling seeing Ms. Dunphy's music mentioned on TV or listed on a program in Toronto or Australia.  JT3 and Hot Breakfast! earn their applause and artistic relationships, and I look on feeling left out and left behind.  It's not envy per se, nor sour grapes.  Rather, they remind me of my many unattained aspirations, the accomplishments I talked up but never actually pursued as a hot-headed, binge-drinking, skirt-chasing, twenty-something would-be composer/song-writer/artist/writer/√úbermensch.  Every success of theirs reflects an inaction of mine, a failure by default.  I lacked the nerve and fortitude, prioritized the wrong things, and forewent opportunities that didn't provide immediate gratification, recognition, or success.  In a nutshell, I pretty much wasted those "best years of my life".
 I'll also confess to some bruised hubris.  I was pegged early on as a bright talent, and nurtured as such.  Part of me still believes that "that could be me up there".  There's no evidence to support that theory.  Of course, there's no evidence against it, either.  There's no evidence of anything at all.
 Now in my late forties, I'm struggling to start down a path overgrown with the neglect of a quarter century.  It's not just daunting, it's confusing, frustrating, scary, and gets me pretty steamed at myself.  Going it alone is even harder; I'm out of touch with social media and contemporary music trends and technology, I don't have contacts to draw from or lean on, or the musical street cred to leverage.  I may be smart and classically trained, but so is every recent composition graduate.  I'm an amateur late to the gate, looking to a subsequent generation for inspiration and guidance.  It's virtually emasculating.
 But I lacked something besides courage, will, and foresight, something at the true heart of the rest — psychological and emotional balance and maturity.

Clinical depression sucks.  Many who haven't dealt with depression directly imagine it as "the blues", an amalgam of sadness and self-pity, with touches of laziness and attention-seeking; a temporary state that a person can shake off if they really want to, or bootstrap out of if they just put their mind to it.  You know — buck up, "man up", grow up.
 I wish it were that easy.  It's not.  Depression is more complex and insidious than that.
 It undermines rationality and alters perceptions and perspectives.  It reduces your ability to enjoy even the things you "know" you love.  It leaves you emotionally raw and weary.  It convinces you that some things are pointless, more trouble than they're worth, or outright impossible to achieve, and backs that up by sapping your physical energy, motivation, and willpower.  Depression isn't just being sad or troubled — it's a prolonged place of gloom and watchwords like exhaustion, guilt, and despair.  It's toting half a hundredweight of Chippenham bricks, always pulling you down, making everything more difficult, including — maybe even especially — fighting back.  And it's no more easily shaken or cured than are grief or a broken bone.
 Almost everyone will suffer a bout of depression in their lifetime, typically following an emotionally traumatic experience.  For most it will subside and things return to normal.  For others it's chronic, and in many of those cases, like mine, genetic and inherited.
 Growing up is difficult for everyone, but an unchecked mood disorder running in the family doesn't help.  Being raised around and with depression substantially shapes one's outlook, attitudes, self-esteem, social agenda, and coping skills.  For a creative personality it offers a number of special obstacles, like pushing your output toward the monochromatic, limiting productive critical evaluation, and eroding faith that your art is worthwhile.
 Something else runs in our family: anger management problems.  The bad news is that this can be more immediately impactful than depression in most pragmatic respects — it destroys and prevents relationships, halts creative work, and drives some incredibly counter-productive decision-making.  The good news is that ours is as much emotional as chemical, which gives me two ways to tackle it.
 I began meaningful therapy at 39, and anti-depressants at 40, eventually settling on Lexapro.  That was awesome for a couple years, until I built up a tolerance.  I would have switched to another SSRI, but I was tired of the side-effects.  I've been off meds for a few years now, but thankfully the therapy kicked in to help me understand myself and manage my moods better without chemical assistance.

Not that I'm "cured".  It's a daily struggle.  The depression itself isn't going anywhere, and sometimes it wins.  It's got an itchy trigger finger and its boundaries are tested regularly, by everyday problems and events, but also by things that "should" feel good — seeing folks I know making great music, trying to craft fiction, or, problematically, working on Usher.  Progress is slow and halting, and I'm reminded often of past failures to launch.  The old modes of thought creep in, about how it's not good enough or no good at all, that I'll probably never finish, no one will be interested if I do so I might as well work on something else, etc.  About half the time spent on Usher is internal point-counterpoint as I fend off the monster from the depths.  That's not very efficient.  And there are days on end when I set Usher aside because "I just can't handle that right now".

Far and away, the biggest hurdle for this project is me — trying to keep up the motivation, maintain focus, set aside unhealthy habits, defeat that despairing voice.  One way I'm doing that is in trying to see my talented friends and acquaintances as concrete real-world examples of what can be accomplished, instead of reflections of what hasn't.  Knowing that they're supportive and in my corner helps.
 But getting some kick-ass work done on Usher would help even more.  Nothing beats rock.

Huh.  Creativity, depression, anger, ego — you'd think that'd be a recipe for great art!