I turned 38 a few days ago. For the first time in over 25 years, I willingly tried to celebrate my birthday. I hung out with a friend and attended a concert. It was by far the most immersive birthday I've had since... maybe Grade 6.
Oftentimes in the past, when my birthday would approach, my parents, friends, or spouse would ask me, "What do you want to do for your birthday?" And I would say, "Nothing." And if they proposed something, I would fight it. "I don't want a birthday party," I'd say. Once, perhaps 10 years ago when we lived in Hope, I tried to get over myself and let my wife arrange a birthday for me, but I myself didn't really market it seriously. It was a long time ago, so the memory is faint, but I don't think anybody came. And that was ok with me, but not quite with my wife, who had put real energy into it. I haven't even imagined even trying to celebrate a birthday since then.
And I don't know if I'll bother again for any time soon. This year, that was enough. It was astoundingly difficult, even in such a low-key setting, to handle the attention, the self-maintaining goal to "take care of myself" by celebrating my existence for once. I had a good time, but it drained me, and when it was over I crashed into a rather embarrassing sadness-spiral that could only be slightly endured after a counselling call. I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'll try it again next year. (Although my birthday does take place on a Saturday next year, so I could very easily go back on my current sentiments.)
Shutterfly sends me occasional updates about photos, saying "Do you remember __ years ago?" usually showing family photos from a given week. Today, Shutterfly sent me some photos, saying "Remember four years ago?" They were photos of my kids when we still lived in Harrison Hot Springs, in our last month living there before we moved to Chilliwack. And I looked and I thought four years? It's only been four years? Because that feels like forever ago. So much has happened: my family fell apart, my kids moved away, I've been working through the usual rigmarole of divorce.
And I've barely written a song. The songs I have written seem hackneyed and trite, nothing like the quality that I maintained 13 years ago. My emotions are caught-up in adultish issues: budgets, debt, paperwork, appointments, parenting, phone calls, workplace balance, driving, car maintenance, etc.. There are people who can write emotionally despite these life-themes, but I haven't been able to do it. As much as I want to find the poetry in these sorts of common events, the words, the melodies, have eluded me, or I haven't been able to muster the energy to approach them.
Until this weekend, when I think I assembled a few words that reflected an actual feeling. Although I've written emotional songs in the last decade, very few of them discussed feelings that were close to my heart at a given moment. They're the sorts of emotions that might be considered "youthful," insofar as they deal with some intense feelings that one feels deep to their core. I'm not going to write the words here because I'm still working on them, but I'm kinda' excited, hoping that I can get a ball rolling in a manner that's creatively viable.
In other news: I've accepted a part in a play, my first play since I acted in A Flea In Her Ear with the Chilliwack Players' Guild. I'm excited about it. I've worked with most of these cast members before, either in Jitters or A Flean in her Ear. It's a musical comedy and I have to sing a song. Costumes should be ridiculous. More info forthcoming.
Also, I might start working a bit with a small company that's homing to make videos and music in-house in Chilliwack. This is good because it will give me a chance to practice and perfect things I've never really worked with before. And finally, for the first time since I lived in Victoria, I might be able to work with people to create music and art again. Most of my attempted musical collaborations have fallen apart over the last bunch of years, but this one's got some potential because people want to be professionals in a low-key enough way that I might be able to make my life work with it. Woo hoo!
I remember seeing this video (embedded below) on MuchMore Music maybe 20 years ago, maybe more. I knew enough to understand how cool it was to get these guys together for the performance, but I didn't quite realize just how special it was. What a performance, and what a way to introduce people to an excellent song.
For the last few months, I've been working on memorizing songs I know, but I don't quite have memorized. I started with "Gentle on my Mind," a song I feel like I've known for as long as I've been alive but never quite memorized. It took a while, but eventually I was able to get the imagery in my head into an order that made sense, and I'd like to think the song's basically in my long-term memory for good now.
Then I moved to "My Back Pages," which challenged in a much different way. Each verse is built on strong imagery, but the images smash into one another; they don't quite create a full photograph like the verses do in "Gentle on my Mind." It took a few weeks of singing along, practicing verse-by-verse, copying out the lyrics by hand, before I could have it memorized. And even now, when it's all in my head, I still struggle to make some of the lines flow from their previous ones.
The last stanza mentions "abstract threats too noble to neglect." Dylan writes,
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
To me, this sort of lends itself to our current "identity politics" moment: the Venn Diagram of Abstract to Practical is kinda' messy right now. That messy overlap is ok, but I hope we can acknowledge its blurriness. Everything's always more nuanced than it seems, no matter the side we pitch our tents. And abstract threats... are still threats. We need to move beyond threatening one another to move change in a useful direction.
On November 15, I attended the Hard Rubber Orchestra's King Crimson tribute at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC. The theatre was packed, largely with older couples who appear to have followed the band since the 70s. One of the guest vocalists, Leanne Dunic, is a friend from high school; she's someone I've lost touch with, but I've followed her artistic escapades through social media for years. It was a good show overall, and the arrangers certainly had lots of fun with their arrangements of King Crimson classics like "Starless," "Frame By Frame," and "In The Court Of The Crimson King."
I've listened to King Crimson since high school, when a couple of my friends had copies of their debut album and THRAK, one of their most recent albums at the time. We often listened to them straight through, laying inbetween the speakers in order to fully experience the delicately-produced songs in stereo. We'd sit and talk about the perfection of "One Time," the absurd timing in "21st Century Schizoid Man," and the Mellotron-laced, despairing tone in "Epitaph." These are good memories for me, since the music seemed both passionate and interesting, perfect for someone like myself. Over those years, I collected a few more of their albums and enjoyed them immensely, even as my friends seemed to let them go.
There are plenty of songs I could talk about, but there's one that's been running through my head for the last few days, one I keep going back to despite its comparative simplicity: "Prozakc Blues."
"Prozakc Blues" follows a blues progression as closely as King Crimson can, despite numerous time changes and near-atonal solos. It's a wonder that one can hear the traditional blues format through it, particularly when it's so intensely dissonant. Despite the song's overall intensity, Fripp adds moody, airy fills throughout, and they inexplicably fall into place.
Lyrically, the song follows the blues pattern as well, but takes it to a ridiculous place. Sometimes King Crimson's lyrical humour can come off as a little too smart to even laugh at, but in "Prozakc Blues" it fits just fine. It's a narrative blues song that tells a story, that satirizes numerous classic blues tropes: "Woke up this morning," going to the Pearly Gates, etc..
When I hear "Prozakc Blues," I mainly think about the year I lived in Egypt. I had the song on shuffle on my Blackberry and spent a lot of time walking around the streets of 6 October City, trying to memorize it, trying to make sense of the time signatures, trying to hear the push-pull of the guitars and the drums. The song made me smile a lot because its humour, musically and lyrically, was pretty tough to come by in Egypt.
I saw an article today that describes how Western countries will not meet the environmental targets outlined in the Paris Accord. I'm not surprised about this at all.
I'm not surprised for multiple reasons. Here are the most basic reasons I'm not surprised in the slightest:
Here's why I'm not surprised at all that we won't meet the goals lined up in the Paris Climate Accord: because my life hasn't changed. Not one bit. I still drive my car way more than I should; I still keep my apartment warmer than I should; I still buy products like I did before. The Accord hasn't affected me directly one bit.
How can we expect systematic change when it doesn't affect parts of the system? If the only cost to the accord is the rising price of gasoline, or a little extra inflation, how will we affect change?
I'd say we won't. Until the measures taken to meet those goals force me to change my ways, I can assume we won't meet those goals. As long as I'm insulated from the effects of the accord, Canada won't be acting in a way that lets us meet it.
The article reads,
Failure to slow the pace of climate change will inflict massive dislocation on people around the world, with expectations of prolonged droughts and fires in some regions, and more extreme hurricanes and rain storms in others, climate scientists warn.
All of those symptoms? Those are the most easy things to deny responsibility for. So until I learn to perceive my part in them, I doubt the entire country would be able to pull off a similar mindset shift.
There are no "could've beens." There were choices we could have made differently, but nothing could've been that didn't happen.
I get caught-up in could've beens quite often. In high school, I wanted to go into photography. I took business and entrepreneurship classes hoping some of it would rub off on me. I imagined I could go to BCIT or some technical school and learn the ropes. I thought similar things about working in radio and broadcasting. But when I graduated, the prospect of working for myself genuinely scared me out of it. I felt incompetent and unwanted and just wanted a job that someone would pay me at. So I defaulted to teaching. I'm ok with teaching, but it's hard not to fall into could've beens about photography and whatnot.
On a similar note, I entered into marriage when I wasn't ready. I felt nervous about it, but I also felt nervous about not doing it. I made the choice to get married since I knew I'd have reservations and regrets either way. I trusted the wrong intuitions. And as much as I imagine what could've been with that relationship and the thousands of choices I could've made differently within and without it, it doesn't matter. That alternate timeline is just one of thousands of possible fictions, mere fantasies in my imagination. Sure, I could've made different choices, but who knows what those choices would've led to.
Could've beens exist in a false narrative, in the stories we tell about our own lives, in the myths that help us make sense of our decisions. We make a choice and imagine, or project our hopes onto that decision. When we think in could've beens, we project our current mindset to a person in the past and create a myth that the person we are today matches with the people we were in the past.
I only have one true narrative, the one that contains the choices I made. And I am the result of those choices. I might imagine that I could have become the person I am now without those experiences, but that's not true.
There is no 20/20 hindsight for an alternate story, because that story doesn't exist. I can lament the choices I made in regards to my career or relationships, but only so far as the choice itself. After that choice, the timeline never started. Only one timeline started, and that's the only timeline worthy of my reflection.
There's a funny thing about some of the sadder portions of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four. While O'Brien tortures Winston, he says,
Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes:
In this context, O'Brien gaslights Smith into believing something he does not perceive. But the gaslighting hangs on a truth: that our heads' perception is the only perspective thhat constructs our reality.
I would like to break out of the "could've been" thinking cycle. I've tried counselling and therapy, religion and art, learning and activity, but I still seem to sink into the pattern. I imagine the pattern's preponderance in my thinking stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my current way of life, despite my numerous blessings and good things.
As I write this, I get the feeling that it comes down to gratitude. I need to practice gratitude for my good life, for the things I have, for the things I've learned, and even the obtuse way I've learned those things.
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