Pride against Prejudice?

I’m sharing some thoughts in the context of my involvement with a new but growing small town Pride organization. As we move forward with planning our first large scale event, I am feeling the personal need to step back and address some of the challenges we’re facing. The first challenge, at least from the perspective based on my experiences as an individual in society at large as well as within my role as co-facilitator of the organization itself, seems to be defining what Pride is and what communities and individuals it represents.

This is really long, and really personal. No one’s making you read the whole thing or to engage in the subsequent discussion. Just don’t be one of those people who say I didn’t try to explain myself 😉

I don’t get to decide what or who Pride ‘should’ represent; what I do feel obligated to do is speak out on why I’m involved and on what some of the exclusionary deal breakers might be regarding my continued involvement. There are three underlying threads in this discussion: prejudice, solidarity, and the small-p pride behind the upper case sister word.

There are currently, for me at least, a minimum of 5 representative letters that must automatically be included in the Pride-related acronym, LGBTQ; although the challenges faced by individuals and communities are unique, I don’t think I could stay involved in an event, forum, discussion, or organization that excluded any of these from the umbrella term Pride. I would also argue for the inclusion of a N for Non-binary, and I for Intersex, a P for Polyamory, another T for Two-Spirited, for instance, and I would have no fears or concerns that the inclusion of individuals and communities represented by those letters would water down the larger meaning or purpose of any Pride organization.

However, even when we focus on the first 5 letters, we are already seeing evidence of exclusions, in the news and in personal conversations. When Pride first started, it may very briefly have been only about representing gay and lesbian communities. I have read different accounts of history, and it really does depend on who is doing the telling. But I have heard gays and lesbians say that bisexuality is not real. We have heard many members of the larger communities (as well as sadly some feminists) who argue that trans people should not be included in Pride activities or in other aspects of community. And there are also some who think that the Q is either redundant or meaningless.

I’ve tried to explain publicly and privately that I identify as a ‘Q’ (for ‘queer’, or more specifically ‘gender-queer’. And with this full disclosure, it is now not just an academic or preferential matter to discuss why I can or can’t stay involved in a particular Pride organization – I could potentially, by definition of not really fitting into the categories of the founding communities, be excluded from discussions without excluding myself. There is related challenge when it comes to me being in any kind of position of leadership — I can’t and don’t claim to speak for the needs of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or even of other queer individuals and communities, but I’m going to talk about that below in the context of ‘solidarity’.

There is no doubt a lack of understanding among the public, both inside and outside of the lgbtq spectrum, about the difference between sex and gender. Even that distinction, and the definitions and distinctions within the distinction between sex and gender, raises more problems of binaries than it solves — so perhaps the separate category of Non-Binary really is essential.

There are two familiar ways to explain sex vs. gender: a) sex is the biology you’re born with, gender is a social construct. But as soon as we expand our minds and our active research, we soon see that ‘sex’ too is essentially also a social construct, even if in most cases it seems to be a convenient definition of biological categories of male and female. b) Sex is who you go to bed with, gender is who you go to be as. This particular way of explaining the difference should be clarified for the general public — ‘sex’ in this case refers to orientation, not biology. In any case, you can begin to see the problems with definitions; but if we’re not prepared to even try to wrap our heads around the riddles, then we certainly have no business being prejudiced.

The problem with these particular distinctions has applied to me in a very personal way. Most of my life (childhood, adulthood, continuing), there have been many members of the predominantly straight/cis communities who have presumed that I’m gay. This stopped bothering me quite a few years ago, but what is important is that the reason for the confusion is that the straight community not only clung to stereotypes about the way that gay and non-gay males should act, but that they were also failing to distinguish between gender and sexual orientation. Who can really blame them, these discussions are not generally had with the general public — even though Marlo Thomas and others were doing their best in the 1970’s.

Conversely, most times I walk into a gay bay, patrons seem to sense right away that I might not belong there, although there have been some happy exceptions. There are elements of my history with coming to understand the difference between sexuality and gender that I can’t discuss here, but here the point is a bit different than in the paragraph above: although most members of the gay and lesbian communities were correct that I didn’t share their sexual orientation, they weren’t able to sense the emotional and mental ways in which I might have had more in common with them because of my ‘queerness’ than I could have had with anyone because of a sexual orientation.

Or because of a biology — if anyone wonders why I have no desire to join their men’s only clubs, it’s because first I really don’t identify as all that ‘male’ in gender terms, and second because I don’t think in an evolved civilization, there is really all that much of a need for men’s only groups to start with.

Aside from my personal experience throughout life, though, I am also going to be getting on any soapbox necessary in order to fight for the inclusion of the Trans communities. My real awareness of transgender issues came while attending an educational and activist conference on transgender needs and rights a few years ago in Winnipeg. I don’t proclaim myself an expert on those needs and rights, and I will not speak for them. But what I will say is if they can’t be included in the general acronym, and if they can’t be included (and actively embraced) as colleagues in the struggle for pride and for Pride, then Pride wouldn’t mean anything for me either.

In terms of the kind of solidarity I dream of, though, within the Pride community as well as across other categories of oppression, one of the models that inspires me is intersectionality within the feminist movements. I won’t try to define that here, I will let intersectional feminists, or women in general speak for themselves. I find it interesting though that in my experience as a Q, I have not only felt more kinship with women, with feminists, and indeed with many lesbians, than I have felt in some particular contexts of Pride discussions and activities — partly because the letter Q is not always included in umbrella acronyms and subsequent organizational policies. It’s quite possible that I should be focusing my energies specifically on wider solidarity activities and discussions, rather than on trying to work within the confines of a Pride organization.

The main reason that I’m not giving up on my role in helping to shape this particular small town Pride organization, though, is that I still believe in pride, and in the need for Pride. The individuals and communities represented at the very least by the letters LGBTQ, as well as N, I, and P, need their voices to be heard, particularly when even in Canadian society there is still a great deal of prejudice against them. They/we need the opportunity to stand tall and proud, not only in parades but in our daily lives. Sex and gender oppression are only two kinds of oppression that need to be dealt with in our world. Sex and gender oppression are different from each other, but it happens to be my personal belief that there are common goals best served by being included together under the official umbrella of a Pride organization. I also believe that any Pride organization, especially in a small town, will either fail, or become irrelevant, if it doesn’t represent the entire community of those who experience sex and gender oppression.

I’ve shared this particular set of thoughts because, for various reasons, I believe they are relevant not only to my involvement with Pride, but are also relevant to the kinds of conversations that need to be had if the new local Pride organization is to really get off the ground. Most of all, the success of this latter organization is going to depend on more people speaking up about their own personal, political and community needs, both inside and outside of the LGBTQ context. If there are happen to be some N’s, I’s or P’s who are just waiting to be included in the acronym before they come on board in leadership or participatory capacities, I will be quite happy to either make the executive decision to expand the acronym, or to push for the inclusion through the democratic process.

Which brings me to my final point: in order for the process to be truly democratic, we need a quorum of more committed voices speaking out constructively. We need these voices to speak in spirits of diversity and solidarity and pride. I really don’t talk as much in person as I do in writing. This bothers and disappoints some people, and for some it’s an opportunity to do all the talking themselves without letting others get a word in edgewise. But despite sharing so many thoughts here, I’m extending the open invitation for others to join a committed working group/founding membership of this particular Pride organization. I’ve been wanting to pass the torch almost as soon as I got started, for different reasons. Apparently I can’t resign until such a committed working group is in place, but if this is the case, I’m going to be doing my darndest to make sure that it’s democratic, that there is solidarity, and that we’re proud.

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Mind and What Matters?

A reflection on mindfulness and intention in the context of music making.

First, though, three matters that I would wish not to be confused:

a) Training and Performance. This particular discussion deals mainly with performance, although it will have some implications for training which require further reflection on all our parts;

b)Goals and Process. This discussion refers mainly to the ideals to which I aspire, not the goals I believe I have achieved in my performance. However, if I did not have growing confidence that I have been making significant progress on the path in pursuing these achievements, I would not have the confidence to share these theories.

c) Great teachers have defined mindfulness differently. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with what any one teaches. It’s just what I’ve come to believe based on my experiences of life (which includes some direct experience with and training in the Zen components of certain Japanese approaches to the martial arts and traditional ceremonies, although even the teachers of these latter may not necessarily concur with my conclusions).

Consider the following notions of mindfulness (or intention, consciousness, etc — fill in each word once for each example) in occasions that are animal, vegetable and mineral:

Does a cat have mindfulness as it finds its way after being tossed in the air to land squarely and gently on its four legs? Your answer may legitimately be yes or no. If yes, then I wish for this kind of mindfulness as I toss my arms about the keyboard and have my fingers land squarely and gently on the keys – and not only on those particular combinations of keys that I have practiced, but also on combinations that I am only considering landing on for the first time in my life. If the answer is no, that the cat is not mindful, then I plead for the same mindlessness as the cat. But above all, let me be like the cat on the keyboard.

Does a sunflower have mindfulness as it poses in all its glory for the great photographers in the heavens? Your answer may quite perfectly be yes, and I may on a deep level concur. If so, then I crave that same mindfulness of the sunflower (or of the ivy or the clematis) as I turn and stretch towards the sounds of singing muses as I might otherwise claim to be improvising. If the answer is no, then I crave instead the mindlessness of sunflowers who are only obeying unseen forces. But above all, may I be like the sunflower.

Does the water (rushing or still) have mindfulness as it finds its own level, even amidst unfamiliar territory of peaks and crevices? Again, if yes, then I aspire to the mindfulness of water as my palms and fingers find their own level among the peaks and crevices of sharps, flats and naturals on the keyboard, especially in the unfamiliar territory of combinations of notes I have never played, or am playing in a new way. If not, then let my hands and fingers be as mindless as water flowing where it is meant to flow, sometimes with ripples and waves but always settling to a level sea. But let me, above all, be like the water as I play.

Depending on your views on humanity, on nature, on the internal and external, seen and unseen forces that govern our lives, you may have different answers than I do. You may have already had teachers that have taught mindfulness in a way that concurs or does not concur with the implications of what I suggest here. One idea that has been crucial in my progress at the piano has been learning to be mindless and not just mindful. Or mindful in a mindless way, or mindless in a mindful way. They are not necessarily opposites. I have discovered forms of mindfulness and intention in both my training and performance that have required ‘paying attention’ in ways that we may not attribute to cats, sunflowers or to water. I have had to especially learn new ways to access the left/analytical side of my conscious brain as I invent new exercises and analyze my experience with exercises and compositions that others have written. But at the same time, the moments when I become truly ‘one with’ my instrument are those moments when I find that my hands and fingers have minds of their own, independent of my conscious direction. We may not necessarily disagree on the definitions involved. It could be toMAto or toMAHto for that matter.

What I do know is that there are many occasions when I have realized that my hands and fingers need to be as gentle, fluid, and yet ‘determinate’ as the water. I have realized that in order to be ‘in the moment’ with my music – and to me this is the more important point — it is not just my physical self, but my mind as well, that must be as gentle and fluid as the water, and the ‘determinate’ aspect of my mind must be the same kind of determinacy as that of water, of the sunflower, of the cat.

If all of this agrees with your definitions of mindfulness, then may be be joyfully mindful together. Otherwise, let us instead revel in complete mindlessness. As animals, vegetables or as minerals.

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Daily Prompt: Protest

via Daily Prompt: Protest

I was a born and raised Lutheran. I never really ‘left’ the denomination, nor have I ever really protested, too much or too little, against it. After years of being away from church communities altogether for several years of wandering, I ended up in a United Church (of Canada) congregation. As a musician, I already had a habit of going to whatever church was in need of my artistic contributions, but in this case, it was at first a matter of being attracted to the progressive theology and social justice orientation. Of course, I since discovered, and continue to do so, that not all UC congregations are progressive, nor necessarily even know the meaning of the word. Several years ago, the UCC officially stepped back a bit from its prominent role as a strong voice of political dissent in the context of lobbying the Canadian parliament, but that’s a subject for a later time.

When I was in my youngest years of consciously wondering about theology, I still naively assumed that too be ‘Protestant’ simply meant to be anything but (Roman) Catholic. I was confused, therefore, by our saying of a creed that professed faith in the ‘one holy and Catholic church’. But that’s just a side note. It wasn’t until my confirmation years, under the direction of a Lunenburg-raised minister who was fond of salty language and quoting Nietzsche, that I was really introduced to the idea of protest as an ongoing element of true loyalty to the Lutheran tradition. We wrestled with ‘Sophie’s Choice-style’ questions. One I remember clearly: if you were stranded on a desert island with your wife, and a sailor came along and offered to take you both back to civilization, on the condition that he could have one night with your wife…what would you choose? I can’t really claim to have understood all of this at the time, most of my reflections have been after the fact and very recent.

In particular, the confirmation class teachings about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It wasn’t until I was in university (as a mature student, over 20 years after confirmation classes) that I first watched a documentary about Bonhoeffer, and truly began to understand. Bonhoeffer didn’t just protest against Hitler and against the secular society that was supporting the National Socialist ‘value system’ and criminal behaviour. No, Bonhoeffer, like Luther, protested against the vacancy and complacency of the religious community itself. He wrote about promoting a “religionless Christianity”, and therefore would probably have been in sympathy with John Lennon if he had lived longer. You can (and should) read about Bonhoeffer for yourself, whether or not you are religious. There are two superb films about him. There is almost no element of his life that isn’t fascinating.

Now that I’m living in the home town of the minister who asked us to grapple with not only difficult life choices, but with the very nature of protest itself — against society, against the church — I find myself speaking out more forcefully myself against vacancy of theology (vacant in the fact that it is not translating into moving beyond ‘responsible opinion’ into responsible political and social and interpersonal action beyond scattered charitable acts, and against the complacency of the church community against the true evils of our culture. That is, not the individual ‘sins’ of drinking and cussing and having complicated romantic relationships, but the evils of abuse of power and authority, and the evils of enabling it through silence and passive complicity.

My family baptized and raised me to be a ‘good Lutheran’. Although I’m not part of that denomination in an active sense, I was recently attending a study group at a Lutheran church. When a member of the congregation challenged the minister, his response was perfect: “Good for you for being a good Lutheran”. It’s in my blood too, perhaps. As I reflect on sermons given by others about the difference between prophets and leaders, and the need for prophets who challenge those leaders, and who challenge the very structure of church leadership itself, I have to wonder: if I doth protest too much, it’s because some people raised me to do so, and others keep encouraging me to do so without even being aware of what they’re asking for.

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The wor(l)d in a grain

Grain

I got nothing. Or do I?

I have several hours (to kill or not to kill), two palms, endless grains of sand, and once I step outside again, I no doubt will encounter at least a few wild flowers. All that remains is for me to remove the scales of metaphorical sleep from my eyes and to hold my palms still for long enough not to keep letting the grains of truth slip away.

One of my favourite stories is somewhat relevant. As re-told by J. Krishanmurti:

“You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.”

A second favourite story is the Snow Queen, which is for me like a re-telling of Blake’s poem. Some of the splinters from the shattered troll-mirror are no larger than a grain of sand. One of these splinter’s is lodged in Kai’s eye, and yet the challenge given him by the Snow Queen is to form the word ‘eternity’ from pieces of ice, much like the one lodged in his eye and that have turned his heart equally cold. The Snow Queen’s ‘mirror of reason’, though, is as much of a fun-house mirror as the one belonging to the trolls. It is only through the splinters of ice being caught up in the dance of Kai and Gerda that the word ‘eternity’ can finally be spelled.

So to mash-up two favourite songs: I got no diamonds, got no pearls…but I got the sun in the morning, and the moon at night, and I got rhythm. If I can teach my palms to dance, then you can imagine the rest. I won’t need to try to keep reasoning away or together the needed alchemy of Blake. I can become the dancing tigger (intentional) burning bright. The blessed symmetry will happen when I can shake off the false immortality of splintered eyes.

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Don’t phase me, bro

Phase

A second nod to Bob Dylan (see Confoundin ): I have to believe that the (my) times are a’ changin. I may not ever qualify as an ageing hippie, unless I truly become a hippie before I age. I’m afraid that the beginning phrases of my recounting of ways that I’ve come close would sound more like some lines from Prufrock.

I once expressed frustration to a philosophy professor that I was feeling trapped in a kind of existential Zeno’s paradox, and that forward movement in my life was seeming to prove inherently impossible. (Any fans of Douglas Hofstadter out there?). The prof offered to sit me down and explain in the space of an hour the simple way out of the original paradox, but he wasn’t speaking my language, as much as we had a mutual respect. I often turned to him when I just needed to vent, but looking back, I think it’s fair to say that he looked upon all of my frustrations and challenges as just phases that I was going through.

The moon goes through phases. Observers from earth never see the far side of it, something to do with how the duration of orbit is the same as the duration of its rotation — and/or something to do with ‘tidal locking’. But although the far side of the moon has been photographed from space, no human being has ever stood on that side of it. In some ways, the Earth’s movement is like the moon’s but on a larger scale. The Earth and its inhabitants also go through phases. Back to Hofstadter, I’d like to think we can choose whether to focus on the recurrent patterns or on the possibility and freedom to change.

Before encountering today’s prompt, I had already planned on musing on my simultaneous cravings for stability and freedom, for ritual habit and variety. Of course these do not represent a paradox and they are not mutually exclusive. But it does feel that way at times. Likewise, I would like to believe that my struggles with depression and other mental health issues are just phases, as are my current challenges to find steady and gainful employment more than 5 years after completing 8 years of post-secondary education. And yet at the same time, there seems to be something inherently impossible about getting from point A to point B.

I’d like to believe that my life can be about the journey, not the destination, so that there really is no ‘point B’ for me to achieve. In which case, I could also dispense with the false destinations that are ‘half-way there’.

I’ve written elsewhere about the difference between historical thinking and becoming trapped by the belief that the patterns of history are inevitable. We’re seeing this debate play out in the current American election (disclaimer: I don’t pretend to have more than an outsider’s perspective, and my particular sympathies for one candidate are only circumstantial), between the opposing theories of incremental and revolutionary change. If I could persuade political candidates of all countries and parties to read Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, and then of course all of Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher and Bach, I am convinced the world would be a better place.

I have to believe that change is possible, for myself and for the world, despite the recurring phases (or pendulum swings) that our global villages endure, and despite that I have been going through some of my own phases recurrently since childhood. I WILL find a way out of my existential and mental habits. At the same time:

At their most docile setting, phasers (and phases) are set to stun. Don’t phase me, bro. Even if I were to receive a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, and even if even the best medications could only offset the extreme symptoms so that I was still destined to go back and forth in my mood swings, I would still be searching for real forward movement.

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Of Carts and Horses

This is also partially in response to some comments and questions I have received to my other posts; it is a public journal reflection, thus inviting further feedback; it is a contribution to the swirling pensieve that I referred to before; mostly it is just an attempt to clarify my thoughts for my own selfish purposes.

What do I want, what do I think the steps are to achieve my goals, and which of those steps am I willing/feeling able to take? Another aspect of motivational interviewing is the ‘ready-willing-able’ equation: if someone is feeling incapable of performing a certain task, it may come across as unwillingness or as a general lack of motivation. One may argue the standard line that willingness to try should come first, but bear with me. Just as musical abilities are achieved through several methodical steps – the 95% perspiration is accurate but is still a vague and useless admonition if one doesn’t know ‘how’ to do the workouts — there are ways in which the pop-psych admonitions, and even some of the respected self-help manuals are putting too many carts before horses, taking far too much for granted in the readers’ understanding of how to proceed with that self-help.

Here is a partial wish list for my life, along with thoughts on what I’m trying to do to address the wishes; it is un-ordered at this stage. I would like some relief from the internal chaos of my mind. Aside from the present writing process to try to order my reflections, aside from the current brand of medication, and aside from appointments I’ve been making and keeping with doctors and therapists, I know there are two practical steps I have yet to take: one is to engage in some more constructive physical exercise. I now have a bicycle and am awaiting a helmet. I would love to find a tennis partner who is also an enthusiastic and mediocre beginner, but that just opens up a whole new series of steps I have to take, and it really will represent a tangent for now, as relevant as it is. The second practical step to deal with mental chaos is one I keep coming back to: an active program of meditation. I need a different mental angle from which to approach the process of just getting started. To the people who say “don’t sweat it. Just focus on your breathing”, my response is: If you told me you wanted to learn to play piano and I gave you a series of steps that I consider simple, but you still couldn’t understand what I meant, would I accuse you of not listening or not making the attempt? There is definitely a cart in front of the horse for me here. But if I knew how to explain why I can’t even sit still for more than 2 minutes being aware of my breath before the anxiety kicks in and I have to get up and do something, I probably wouldn’t need to keep brainstorming on new angles, let alone invite new feedback.

I would like to find a day job that I can feel competent at, even if it only pays minimum wage. Please don’t yell at me when I say I can’t even multitask sufficiently to work at a gas station or Tim Horton’s. Please don’t yell at me and say I’m unmotivated. If you looked at my resume, you’ll see all of the jobs I’ve been willing to try. Getting my hands dirty is no problem. Heavy lifting is no problem, as long as you don’t trust me with anything fragile or that will be easily scratched. Standing for long periods is not a problem. I have 8 1/2 years of post-secondary education, resulting in an MA in Religious Studies and a Bachelor of Social Work. My brain started hurting before I finished the MA, and my training in Social Work made things worse, because it was all about intellectually analyzing what was wrong with the world rather than the hands-on skills of how to work with clients.
I made an attempt recently to find a career counsellor, and was told ‘Come back when you know what job you want to do’. Seriously. But that’s not the end of my story. Aside from using the present writing process, aside from hoping that when I start to achieve some mental clarity, that I’ll be able to sort out what kind of day job I’d really like to have, I know that one step I have yet to take is to start engaging in more conversations with people about the jobs they have so that I can do some more constructive brainstorming on what I would or wouldn’t like/be good at in such jobs. But aside from engaging in another tangent about my social phobias/shyness (introversion is not a precise enough word for my personality issues), I’m in search of some metaphorical horses here as well in terms of getting started with those conversations.

My musical wishes are the biggest example of carts and horses. I have dreamed of being a successful musician, but have long realized that first I need to become a more competent one. But the ironies abound. I have spent my life being a big fish in small ponds — partly because I become overwhelmed by large centres, partly because of other social and artistic self-doubts. I have a certain number of musical skills that are in high demand precisely because they are apparently rare. I have been told that I have innate ‘gifts’, and it doesn’t matter how much I beg to differ and insist that all of my skills result from having had some of the best teachers in my childhood and youth. I can still do things as a musician that other professional musicians and educators marvel at. I have had no shortage of successful gigs in my life, both solo and ensemble. And yet there are other practical skills that I lack. There are a number of high-paying musical contexts that I am simply not capable of going for because of the particular gaps in my abilities. But before you yell at me, please be aware of two things: first, the steps I need to take to fill these gaps are steps that I AM taking, notwithstanding the obstacles presented by my mood swings and attention span issues. Every chance I get, I’m working to build my skills. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe that it’s worthwhile, or that I am capable of achieving my goals.
Second, though, please know that this is not just artistic self-doubt. The skills that I do have, the ones that impress even the seasoned professionals, are in demand but are not sufficient to get me the kind of money I need to survive. The key word I need to add is “yet”. I will get there.

But having spent the last few years trying to grow as a competent musician, I do ask myself if being a full-time musician is really what I want. I’d be happy for the combination of being a damned good Saturday night musician and having the day job I can be proud of. People have yelled at me not to give up day jobs that I often never had in the first place. They thought I was being stubborn, but the fact is that for long periods of my life, music is all I have really understood. Far more than Religious Studies or Social Work, neither of whose content I could ever really retain. I can promise I’ve forgotten more of my education than I learned. I do know that I don’t want to take on more than a handful of students. I do know that there are certain ‘dream jobs’ out there for me as a musician that I’m already qualified for. I do know that I’m actually really close to living and not just chasing the dream of being a full-time musician. I know that I can get the rest of the way if I keep going. But my craving of a traditional day job is not just because of the occasional artistic doubts. It’s also because:

I mentioned in another post the issue of my loneliness. It is connected to my life as a musical artist, but I am willing to address it separately in terms of the steps I need to take. Although I’ve actively reached out on dating sites, this opens up a couple of paradoxes. First, before I can find someone to be with, I have to learn to be happy being alone. It’s not like I don’t know this. Second, I refuse to be dishonest on these dating sites, or in any other social context, about how chaotic my life is. I might be more attractive to a potential partner if I didn’t put all my cards (and my dramas) on the table, but what would be the point of dating someone who had false hopes about me having my life together? I don’t drive, I’m living in virtual poverty, I have two part-time jobs as a musician and scattered gigs, I haven’t been able to build my business as a music teacher, and my mental health is in ruins. Strangely, my physical health is actually pretty good, notwithstanding that I need to exercise more.
But before you yell at me, I’m just trying to address my loneliness from opposing angles: first, by working on all of the things above, I’m trying to find inner peace and happiness based on what I can achieve as a more humane human being. I’m also doing my best to reach out to kindred spirits (I’m often sad that I find more kindred spirits online and 1000 miles away than I do in real life, but there have been marvellous exceptions). Again, though, please understand not just the obstacles but also the issue of carts and horses involved in my very attempts to reach out for new friendships. If I were to wish for one result of therapy that would alter my entire destiny, it would be to overcome my shyness. Please don’t yell at me about all of the books and programs that are ‘out there’ to help with this. You might as well be trying to teach me how to understand sailing or nuclear physics.
I do believe that finding a day job that I would at least enjoy getting up in the morning to go to — as I said, even if it only pays minimum wage — would help with so many other aspects of my life, very much including being an antidote to the loneliness. Going home alone at night is still one of the most depressing banes of my existence, but I have always slept better when I know I’m looking forward to getting up in the morning.

The rest of my wish list is really secondary to the above. There is an old book called ‘Games People Play’. One of the games is called ‘waiting for Santa’. I would hope that I’ve talked enough about the steps that I’m trying to take instead of waiting for the fairy godmother to change my life, although a bit of deus ex machina is not something I would turn away.

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Perchance to dream

Dream

Yes, the title is a bit tired, and so is the implied play on words in the previous clause. But like the nature of my dreams — three kinds: daydreams, night dreams, and the ones I’m trying to chase — I’ll just meander a bit in this post until I arrive at an alternative title, although the opening one will stand.

In a previous post, I mused on the paradox of the examined life and the conclusions one draws about its worthiness, and this is a partial reply of sorts to one of the beautiful comments I received in response. It’s very true that it would probably be only an incomplete examination of one’s life that would lead someone to the conclusion that it’s not worth living. There are a couple primary streams of thought behind my original statement. First, the part where I examine my own life and wonder what the point has been; the second is the idea that life is so much easier if we can avoid the trap of self-examination in the first place. I can’t address either of these points in any depth in this post, but the second may be the most relevant for what I think I’m trying to say.

This morning, in the midst of an overwhelming sense of particular anxieties and generalized dread, I found myself wondering what it is that I really imagine as the ‘release’ that I anticipate as a result of ending my life. If I follow the idea that there is an afterlife, I can’t presume that I will end up in a place of peace rather than in one of eternal damnation. This morning I was more of a mind that what would follow my death would be nothingness, in which case I would not be ‘around’ to even be aware of having been released from my pain or from the feelings of dread. I found myself wondering about whether there would be a difference in consciousness of that release between a sudden accidental death and a long-planned suicide involving a slow fading off into the never-ending sleep. I don’t have answers to that of course; interestingly, my curiosity in the matter is what may likely save me rather than lead me into careless experimentation. Although I don’t think that imagining Sisyphus as happy is an effective antidote against suicide, I would wish my readers to recognize this post as a sign of hope rather than despair.

So, I did come to the conclusion at least that suicide would not bring me the particular form of release that I’m craving, namely the conscious experience of a lasting inner peace. I mean the kind that is not dependent upon external circumstances, although it would be really close to the feeling of being in a lover’s arms. Before anyone guesses that I’m missing the point on a lot of things — like whether we as humans are meant to experience more than passing moments of such transcendent peace, or the means we should be using to achieve it, such as prayer or transcendental meditation, for instance — I’ll just refer readers back to what I wrote before: although I do hope for a diagnosis of adult ADHD just so that I might finally get a more effective medication so that I can sit still long enough to start meditating, the bottom line is that between my new daily writing regimen, and the fact that my musical practice is starting to take shape again, I may find my own route to the needed beginner’s mantra.

Days like today, I just wanted to fade off into a blissful sleep never to have to wake again. To sleep, and not just perchance to dream. Because even some of my bad dreams are more peaceful than the waking dread. But in addition to reinforcing the point that I’ve come to the conclusion that I want this experience of peace to be conscious, and therefore neither suicide nor opiates are effective means to achieve it, there are the other kinds of dreams that I haven’t addressed.

I dream of being the change I want to see in the world. This is actually a bit less lofty of a goal than my dream of eking out a modest but comfortable existence as a musician, and of having a lover to share that existence with. Following my dreams as an artist is only a double-edged sword because a) I’m not convinced (yet) that I have enough talent or ambition to overcome years of neglect. Yes, I’ve spent the last few years trying to take responsibility for compensating for the neglect through intense practice, and it has started to pay off, until I allowed external and internal obstacles to get in the way, such as b) if anything is going to kill me, it’s going to be the extreme loneliness of going home alone after a successful gig. Going home alone after an unsuccessful gig is actually easier, because I can escape with thoughts of seeking the new day job that will bring me release from the tortures of chasing my musical dreams when I know that I’m not yet good enough to be discovered. When I know that I’m taking responsibility to improve, though, I still don’t deal very well with the solitude. My practice is solitary, as it should be, and that never gets me down. I’m primarily a solo musician, and to some degree, I know I won’t meet the musicians I really crave to work with until I overcome the hurdles of my lingering mediocrity. So close and yet so far away.

Some days I just really do want to go to sleep and dream of being a competent and gainfully employed musician. And then wake up and have a day job that I can be proud of.

I haven’t really answered my reader’s comment about the incompleteness of the ways in which I’ve examined my life. I’m going to claim the fifth amendment here, as I’ve just had to delete a great deal of extraneous information, as if the above isn’t already tmi. But: I’ve been told that my thoughts are a kind of balm for others who are going through similar or at least parallel ordeals. I’m still here, and it gives me great hope to know that you are too. Let’s keep talking. And dreaming. To make the impossible dream a reality.

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