… and the beat goes on …

25/07/2014

When your life revolves around music, as mine does, it becomes quite easy to live what may be termed an “insulated” life – a life that is, in many ways, unconnected with the realities that the rest of the world deals with on a regular basis for the simple reason that while music may be important to me (and to everyone else who creates music), and the rarefied individuals who are able to partake of the joys of contemporary “art music”, the realities of life (though some might argue, correctly, I might add, that this is not how life should be) – but war, and the political machinations behind the scenes that ultimately, inexorably, lead to wars and genocides, as well as the various crimes and misdemeanours which the Talking Heads on the News seem so pleased to be bringing into our homes every night, promptly at 6pm (except when they want to interrupt Judge Judy at 4pm) – all of these seem to conspire together to make me feel that  what I am doing with my life seems quite insignificant. At least, that may be how I start to feel when my mood takes one of the many downward spirals that are closely associated with an illness that I have been living with for many years – it began to manifest itself while I was in high school, thirty years ago. The illness is not uncommon among composers, it seems: some of the greatest musical geniuses have been afflicted with this disease, including Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, George Frederick Handel, and perhaps even Ludwig van Beethoven (cf. Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison) – so I count myself among great company when I say “I have Bipolar Disorder. I have Bipolar Affective Disorder, Type II, and I’m not ashamed – at all – because of it, so don’t bother making notes or copying and pasting this, to use against me at some point in the future: I’ve gone on record on a number of occasions – this is not a “coming out” for me, but thank you for caring.

I also have to remember, and this is important, that when my mood turns away from the sunny pursuits of life my feelings are liars: my feelings want me to succomb to their taunts and prevarications, that I may abandon hope, cast aside all that I’ve accomplished, and surrender to the Sirenic calls coming from the depths of Hades. The lies will, eventually, cause you to take everything that is important and kill it, but you cannot allow those voices to be heard for very long lest they force your mood into a deeper darkness than it had been in before the day began. Depression is pernicious, evil and, above all else, it does not discriminate: anyone is susceptible to it, regardless of their social standing or moral character. It does not matter whether you are a “good person” or an asshole, 1 in 5 people will become depressed at some point in their lives. You have a much greater chance of becoming depressed – at some point in life – than of ever winning the Lottery.

I have tickets for the Lottery this weekend.

In all seriousness, I could be angry at the fact that I have a mental illness (that is, after all, what Bipolar disorder is), but that’s not how I feel about it and I’m going to tell you why (this would be a pretty lame article if I didn’t, right? – never mind): I know, for a fact, that my creative life has been tremendously enhanced as a result of this illness. It has made aspects of my life more difficult and yes, it has caused some intense suffering, but the abilities that I’ve gained – the ability to see things with an increased clarity, to feel things at a greater depth (yes, I’m a man that cries – a lot, at times – sometimes over the silliest things, but it is only because I feel something that touches me tremendously), and to experience things in a way that just does not make sense to others. Just as I try not to eat junk food, I try not to listen to “noise” – in whatever form it may inhabit (I’m not making a specific statement regarding any particular genre of music as I’ve listened to, and enjoyed, everything from Ska to avant garde jazz [which can be WAY out there]; I’m referring to … crap. There, I said it: musical crap. It exists, you’ve heard it, that’s all I’m saying.). When listening to music it goes beyond simply “hearing” the music, it is something that enters through the entire body: there’s a piece of music by Beethoven, for example, that I just adore, the first movement of his 6th Symphony (among many other pieces), also known as the Pastorale. It is an achingly beautiful composition, but lately I find that I rarely listen to recordings of the piece when I leave the house: instead of using my Mp3 player and having the sounds of traffic interspersed with my recording I close my eyes (once I’m on the bus … walking with my eyes closed has tended to cause me more pain than I’m already experiencing as a result of the fibromyalgia … more in a future article) which allows me to drown out everything around me, and let the “orchestra of my mind” take up the symphony. It is a performance replete with every nuance and gesture that the composition deserves, without sounding overly sentimental … and I don’t have to pause the performance if I don’t want to, while changing buses, or waiting for the train – I just listen, in my mind, and experience my own private concert. I can, and do, do this with several of my favourite pieces, and have been “practicing” pieces that I’m playing on the guitar by “playing” them in my mind while waiting at the bus stop, playing the left hand fingering on the strap of my satchel, every note ringing in my mind as clearly as though I were playing on the best guitar in the world.

When you are listening to music in your mind (or, perhaps I should say, hearing music in your head) you are living the music at a deeper level than if you are only using your ears. Another term for this type of “deep listening” is audiation. Audiation is, in its essence, “ear imagination” – being able to imagine  sound(s) in your ear. It is a particularly important talent for composers who can, literally, compose in their heads if (and this is one of those big “ifs”) they can hear what they want to put down on the paper without having to refer to an instrument. In this sense, I’ve been very lucky in that this is how I’ve been composing virtually from day one. I never compose at a piano or on the guitar, though I may play something after I’ve written it down, I write things down as I hear it, or after hearing it in my head. That’s just the way I’ve always worked, and it has always worked well for me, so I’m not about to change things up now. Regardless of how I may be feeling I understand now that the most important thing for me is the process: writing, composing, putting things down on paper – or on the screen – filling those empty spaces – is a process, and if you are not dedicated to the process, even when things seem to be going badly, you will fail. Failure is not an option. Failure – failing – is part of life, and we learn our greatest lessons from our failures, our mistakes, our massive f*@$ Ups – they make us who we are as adults. Anyone that says they haven’t failed is a liar, and someone dealing with intense insecurity issues. They shouldn’t be trusted.

I have failed. Actually, one of my biggest failures, in university, ended up being one of the best things to happen to my musical education, and turned out to be a tremendous experience that I wouldn’t have had if I had succeeded: I had been carrying a double major – composition AND performance (psychotic? no, just bipolar), and I was failed on my 4th year recital, which I did in my 3rd year (which was actually my 2nd year at the school … confusing, perhaps … but don’t worry, it isn’t important). Anyway, I needed a C+ to pass the recital and received a C. I received an “A” from one jury member, a “B” from another, and an “F” from the third member … he really hated the piece that I’d composed, and he told me so – and he gave me a mark to fail me, even though two-thirds of the jury had given me marks that were more than passing marks. BUT … failing that 6 credit course was a blessing! To make up those credits (they wouldn’t count towards my degree – and – since they wouldn’t count, the C wouldn’t figure into my GPA! It was as though I hadn’t even taken the course!) I was able to take a Special Research Project with my composition teacher and a Graduate Studies course in Schenkerian Analysis – and I received top marks in both courses, graduating Magna Cum Laude. So, failing was an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow – and an opportunity to grow some humility. Nobody is perfect.

Our greatest perfection lies in the recognition of our imperfections. It is only when we are able to look into ourselves and see the ugliness looking back that we are equipped to deal with it, to look back and, instead of cringing,  look the ugliness in the eye and declare, “I know you; I recognize you … I’m going to change you.” On the occasions that I do take the time to listen to the Talking Heads who seem so intent on invading my space every evening at 6pm I am astounded at the level of frivolity that accompanies what they deign worthy of being called “News” – certain “human interest” stories (Man Bites Dog: Dog Gets Rabies … etc.) that seem to be just two steps beyond the inane level. At the same time, it makes me wonder, how much more some of these people need the beauty of music in their lives. Perhaps it isn’t such a frivolous existence after all, not when you consider how much music can bring people together, if only for the few moments the piece is being played, there is total equality for (my) music does not judge. There is no race in music, there is no religion, no strife, no violent struggle against right or wrong (and if there is, there are no casualties!), and there hatred, only the joyful noise that celebrates the love of life in all of its glory.

So, with all the glory of life and music, why is it I want to die every now and then?

Bipolar Disorder, otherwise known as “Manic Depressive Disorder” is, in many ways, the best and the worst of what you could ask for (not that anyone would ask for a mental illness). Type II of this illness indicates that the individual does not experience a full-blown manic episode, which may often end up resulting in a stay in the hospital. Mania is a serious thing, not something to be joked about, and definitely NOT something that you want to experience. I’ve seen people during a manic episode and it is not pretty. I am lucky (yes, I said it) in that I only (only) experience hypomanic episodes. “Hypomania” is, quite literally, a “small” mania. I like to compare the two like this: Mania is like someone running down the street, naked, singing Black Sabbath songs … while twirling a parasol. Hypomania is watching the person experiencing the manic episode and saying to yourself, “that looks like a lot of fun, but … I think I’d choose the Beatles instead … and no parisal” – but – the person with hypomania does NOT go through with it, that’s the difference. Hypomania, when I experience it (not very often – perhaps a few times per month, if I’m unlucky) makes me feel as though everything is running in triple-fast-forward; all of my senses are in overdrive, and it feels as though my entire body is “thrumming” with energy, that I could, quite literally, lift off the ground just by thinking about it – or by taking a small step into the air. Unfortunately, these episodes do not usually result in a great amount of creative lucre – I am usually too easily distracted by … anything … to harness the energies of the episode and create something. On the rare occasion that I experience a “switch” into hypomania while I’m already at work on a piece … oh my … that can be an incredible session and produce amazing results, or crap. Yes, sometimes this has happened and the next time I looked at my work I ended up deleted several hour’s of work because … it was CRAP! But, that happens. Part of the maturing process as an artist, and particularly as a composer, is being able to look at what you’re writing and recognize when something is worth keeping and something is not (I’m not talking about false modesty here, “oh, nothing I write is worth saving” – that’s a load of crap – if you believe that, become a garbage person, not an artist).

Most of my creative energies come from a place that is between hypomania and the depressions that I experience, though they (thankfully) don’t last very long (usually), thanks to the medications I take. When I’m working it is as though my mood reaches some form of artificial “stasis”, blocking out everything including the pain from the constant migraine that I’ve been living with since high school. As long as the music is flowing (that which I’m hearing in my head) it is possible to maintain this “cone of creativity”, but – once I stop my composing session for the day … the tsunami washes over me with overwhelming force.

So, the struggle continues, and when I make the mistake of listening to the Talking Heads I allow myself to question what value there is to putting a bunch of black notes on paper, making marks and lines that may never be played or heard by others – in my lifetime. I have to remind myself that composing is not really about the “here and now” (or the “hear and now”), but rather about an investment into the cultural future of our species. Yes, that sounds incredibly grandiose, but think about it for a moment, how many manuscripts of Bach may have been lost because of the manner in which he composed and how the finished scores were transmitted, stored, and etc.? Beethoven? Mozart? Several, for each, and that is a tragedy. Contemporary composers face similar issues, even (and especially) when writing music that creates scores on the computer, but when we produce music, even if it is not performed in our lifetime, it exists, and will be around for future generations of performers looking for “something new” from a particular generation. Composers are adding drops into a giant time capsule for future generations to open and enjoy. That’s why I’ve always said “you do not become a composer of contemporary classical music to become rich”.

I have to remind myself that Depression is a liar, and it’s very good at it as well. Depression will tell you that you’re a failure, that you haven’t achieved anything, and that you’re never going to achieve anything. Do Not Listen to it’s voice. Depression is something that can be, should be, and must be battled – at all costs. Do not fall into the lie that “I can beat this” on your own, that’s one of the lies Depression uses to entrap its victims into its cycle of defeat, desolation, and disintegration (of self). Depression cannot bear the light of day, the sound of laughter, the smile of another, or the touch of a loved one. Depression must be treated as the dangerous serial killer that it is: if you or a friend/relative are experiencing a serious depressive episode PLEASE seek help from a qualified medical professional. If you have been considering harming yourself IN ANY WAY, PLEASE call the Emergency Services (911 in Canada & U.S.) and call for help immediately (a Canadian resource). There is nothing to be ashamed of, this is an illness that must be taken seriously before it takes another victim. There’s no point feeding the dragon when we have weapons that have been forged in flames to defeat it.

While Bipolar disorder is an illness that leads some people to take their lives, it does have a silver lining in that it has been shown to enhance the creativity of the afflicted. One might say, in closing, it is a bitter pill to swallow, but I wouldn’t change it if I could: I’ve never known another way as far as my creativity goes; how could I be sure I could compose without this Mercurial, Psychotic Muse paying me her regular visits? It is a chance, thank you very much, that I would not take. For now, and forever, I shall remain the CrazyComposer – thank you, thank you very much … and the beat … and the beat goes on … and on … and on.

Making it Work: Creatively Crazy

07/07/2014

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I cannot think of any career where this can truer than in the field of music: we speak of “playing” instruments, “playing music”, and, for those of us lucky to be in that position, we create music out of thin air. How much less like “work” can be the creation of something that will bring joy to the lives of others? Certainly, it takes effort, but who would trade being a composer (or musician in general) for, oh, I don’t know … how about a coal miner, or a fisherman on the Bering Sea? Thank you, very much, but no; I am quite cognizant of the fact that I lead a life tremendously blessed by virtue of the fact that I have been afforded the opportunity to follow my dream of being a composer, even though this “blessing” has come at the result of two chronic illnesses; were it not for these illnesses it would not have been possible, in all likelihood, for me to pursue this “career” without caring so much about the financial side of the game. In effect, the reason that I’ve been afforded this opportunity is, largely, the result of those two illnesses which have exerted an intense influence upon my life over the past thirty years: bipolar affective disorder, and fibromyalgia (accompanied by a chronic migraine that has not gone away since my time in high school).

One of the things that Confucius definitely had right about his comment was that if you really love what you are doing, it can never really feel like you’re doing work: the only downside to this is, and this also applies really well to music, it makes it very easy to see yourself doing a lot of “work” without receiving much, if any, remuneration for the tasks … because, after all, you’re doing it “for the love of the music” – you’re not “in it for the money”, right? Of course, this is true, and in my case, I really am not doing it for the money: as a result of the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type II for those keeping score), as well as fibromyalgia (don’t forget that migraine – it’s there, 24/7/365/21,900/1,314,000); as a result I’ve been on permanent disability since 2000 (Ontario Disability Support Program). When it started I had gone through an intensely devastating period of over a year where I could not compose a note due to the intense depression that I was experiencing. This was an absolutely horrific thing to go through: I couldn’t compose or write, save for the occasional poem, which probably prevented me from losing all hope in life. It took many hours with several doctors, experiments with several medications, but … the music that I had been so used to hearing all the time in my head was there again, as though it had never been gone … and I have never looked back. But, sometimes it would be nice if somebody thought what I was doing was worth my being paid something.

This isn’t to say I have never been paid for my music, of for a composition: I have, and it makes me quite uncomfortable when someone asks “how much” I want for something … I really am not in this for the money … but … life doesn’t really know that. This past year my cat had cancer – and survived – but that means that I am now making monthly payments (for the next several months) to repay the lovely people that put the price of Seussie’s surgery on their credit card. I could have bought an extremely expensive concert guitar for what I’m paying … I now tell my cat, “you’re the most valuable thing I own” (he looks at me, yawns, and goes to sleep … a perfect cat). The idea of life, however, without him, was not possible. Paying the vet bill is just something I have to do … the cost doesn’t matter.

Whenever I have an appointment with my psychiatrist (a charming doctor named Dr Miura, who hails from Argentina and is of Japanese and Argentine descent) at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, the first – and most important – question that he always asks me is: “how is your music going?” He understands, quite clearly, that if my music is “going well”, if I am composing he knows that my mental health is not anywhere near a critical area. The same can be said if I’m writing other things as well: the creative process is equally transferable for me; so, I’m fine if I’m writing and not composing … for a short period of time. My mental stability is inexorably connected to my creative process: when I’m writing (music or otherwise) I’m in a “good place” – when I’m not … that’s one of the most important “warning signs” that things are going downhill … really quickly. This is an especially important thing to observe in my situation since I have been diagnosed with the type II variant of bipolar disorder, and have been further classified as a “rapid cycler”, meaning my moods have a tendency to “switch” much more quickly than someone who has the type I variant of the illness, and experiences full-blown mania. I’ve never had a full manic episode, thankfully, but that doesn’t make the type II variant any easier to manage: it has become something of a job as it requires a great amount of observation and dedication to monitor things, how they affect me, and etc., and to constantly monitor my physical and emotional state so that I do not over-exert myself (which is a no-no with fibromyalgia, resulting in several days recovery time for the slightest exertion) or allow my emotions to get (too) out of control. It all boils down to self awareness: understanding how you will react under certain situations and, knowing that, making choices as to how you will participate – or if you will participate.

It became clear to me, when I was younger, that if I wanted to pursue my dream of being a composer the thing I had to do was compose (Just do it? In a manner of speaking, yes … but I also studied, and practiced, and practiced, and studied … ad nauseum). Yes, that sounds silly, but I mean it just the way it sounds: I started writing music at every opportunity that I had as a student, on everything, in everything; in harmony and theory assignments, extending homework assignments, “doodling” in classes … it was probably maddening to some of my professors, but it helped develop my “chops” as the composer that I ultimately became. When I was a student in college and university two things were important to me: playing the guitar and composing; the further I progressed in school, studying more contemporary music with a brilliant composer named Steven Gellman as my mentor the guitar began to take second fiddle to my musical interests and composition became my primary passion, a passion that has not waned to this day. In fact, after my 3rd year guitar recital (which I performed in my 2nd year at the University of Ottawa) I almost stopped playing altogether, in part to dedicate myself wholly to the task of composing, but also partly because I had been playing with a great amount of pain for several years, and there was no reason to put myself through that anymore if I had no more recitals to prepare for or juries to appear before.

Fibromyalgia is not something that I would want anyone to have to experience, but for those that have it, and live with the pain and discomfort that it presents, you can understand how easy it is to give up on something if, in your mind, you are not actually losing anything in the act. When I stopped playing the classical guitar I really only stopped practicing six to eight hours a day, but I would still play the instrument … for a while. That extra time, for the most part, ended up being used on other projects, like composing … so, it was all good. When I did return to the guitar, however, it got to the point where I was unable to maintain the technical level that I’d had as a performer, and that was unacceptable to me: I didn’t want to be an “okay” guitar player after having played concert repertoire, so … I stopped playing it altogether … and, oddly, it didn’t bother me at the time. I was, after all, composing. Everything was working fine. For a while.

Since I was on disability it was as though – in my mind – I was being paid to compose. Being a “Creative” had become my job by virtue of the fact that I had to continue being productive, and was now “employed” by the Government of Ontario (the Ministry of Community and Social Services, to be precise). So, I was “only” a composer – that was fine by me … but, unlike many of my colleagues, I was in a position to write music for anyone – and not have to worry about the politics of grant applications and commissions in order to get things done: if someone was interested in my music and wanted to play a piece of mine, a commission was created. Period. I would compose the music and they would perform the work and record it … simple, sweet, and elegant. It is an arrangement that has worked for me, and the performers involved, for the most part, for the better part of twenty-years. The only problem is that even when Confucius is deferred to and you are not “working”, per se, the idea of receiving remuneration for something that you have created is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it is going to help you in the pursuit of your art – or, just to help you make ends meet when you discover that living on a disability pension is not necessarily as luxurious as it sounds (if I’ve said anything to make it sound luxurious, I apologize … and retract every jot and tittle … there is nothing glamorous about subsistence living … though it is better [much] than living on the streets). Or, if your cat gets cancer … things like that. Life. It sometimes gets expensive.

Seuss reclining - his favourite pose

Seuss reclining – his favourite pose

No. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that one of the definite disadvantages of composing “for the love of music” means that, on occasion, being taken advantage of is standard operating procedure. Once, for example, an orchestration that I was commissioned to create – and this was an actual paid project – was delivered, and then the payment was never made. They simply denied ever having discussed the price with me, and since we had no written contract … there was nothing I could do about it (the piece has since been premiered and you can hear the performance on my SoundCloud page here). Other projects have ended in disappointment, but – once again, there haven’t been contracts memorializing the terms and conditions, so, in one fell swoop a major chamber work and two solo works were tossed aside because … well, the concert they were going to be performed in wasn’t going to happen and there were no plans to put them in a future concert. There wasn’t anything I could do, so … I started composing other pieces and began shopping around the chamber piece, looking for other performance opportunities.

While I may not be making my living (aside from occasional residuals, which are very occasional, and not enough for anyone to live on) from my music it is equally disheartening that it seems so easy for some people to casually dismiss what amounts to hundreds of hours of creative endeavours (in other words: work; it may not feel like work, but it is, in fact, exactly that). Composing may not be true “work” but it takes time, effort, and a tremendous amount of intellectual energy. When I spend four, five, or ten hours composing it feels as though I have worked at a physical job when I finally stop. The reason for this is quite simple: the pain. While I’m composing I’m able to push aside the constant pain I live with, to the point that I don’t even notice (for the most part) the migraine that has, at times, led me to the Emergency Room for shots of heavy-duty opiates when I was in high school and college (not necessary today because of the medication I take on a regular basis, thanks to a doctor who understands pain management and the ramifications of chronic pain left untreated). When a composition session of mine ends there is a short pause and then a flood … a torrential wave of migraine, washes over me … and it happens virtually every time. Day in, day out; if I can write, I can block the pain, but when I stop … it returns; with a vengeance. Of course, if I’m not writing or composing the pain becomes even worse … something that cannot be tolerated without intense concentration.

Living with pain has become something of an art form, something that I have to do if I want to continue living and working, but when it interferes with my work, when it becomes an impediment to that which makes my life worth living, that’s when it becomes too much to handle. If it weren’t for the pain management that I have, thanks to a very caring doctor, the greatest truth is that my compositional career would have ended many years ago. Unfortunately, many composers out there have not been afforded the luxury that I have, to write without worrying about money; many composers are restricted by economic circumstances as to what they can, and will, compose. I am only confined by what I want to compose, so long as someone is interested in performing the music, I will compose for them … but … I have to ask the question … is there really something wrong with composers receiving something (something?) for that which they create? On the other hand, I often compose pieces just for the sake of composing … without having anyone asking for it … just because I’m inspired to compose the piece. Following your inner inspiration is one of the greatest ways to allow your creativity to lead you into an undiscovered world of discovery. Composers compose … it’s what we do.

I don’t want any of this to sound carnal, but … truth be told, I started playing classical guitar again a few months ago (more about that in a future post) and, well … there’s a guitar maker that I would really love to buy a guitar from … alas, his guitars are not the type of thing that fit into my budget. So … aside from paying for my cat’s surgery, it would be really wonderful to be able to purchase a concert guitar – perhaps not the “Rolls Royce” version … but … something nice.

A Generalized Theory of Work

02/07/2014

Lately I’ve been wondering about the amount of work – not stuff that I necessarily hate doing, just a lot of stuff – has been accumulating. This is mostly because I keep finishing compositions that must then be entered into a computer program I use called “Finale” which generates the final copy, the score from which a performer will (eventually – I hope) perform the piece. The process of entering a completed composition into Finale is not my favourite part of the compositional process – in fact, at times I really dislike it, for the simple reason that I’d rather be working on a new piece, but – if I don’t finish this piece … if I don’t make the nice, cleanly printed score … there is little to no chance of it ever being performed. Composers have always had to contend with copying their music so that others could read their handwriting – I’m lucky enough to have at my disposal a computer program that makes the process go by much faster than if I had to do it by hand … which I did, many times, when I was a student in college and university … so, I’m not complaining (really!) about having to do this final process when a composition is completed.

However, there is even more (yes, more) work that I’ve been wanting (Did he just say “want”? Yes … he did.) to do – I’ve been working on a novel for quite a while, but I keep putting it off to work on my primary passion, composing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never complain about being so busy with composing that I don’t have the time for other creative endeavours; when I’m composing I know it means that my mental health is just about as good as it gets (that’s something else that I’ll be blogging about in the future) – and that’s not something that I should complain about. But, I know that there is more that I can – and should – be doing … I know how much time I don’t use, and what I want to do … and I believe I know how to effectively bring myself into a more productive state of being. It involves something that I’ve come to call the “Generalized Theory of Work”.

Unlike Einstein’s Theory of Relativity my “Generalized Theory of Work” will, in all likelihood, not change the way you view the universe… but it just may change the way you live your life as it is based on things that I’ve observed and practiced at various times throughout my creative life. The Generalized Theory of Work states: The amount of creative Work that anyone may accomplish during any given interval of TIme may be increased proportionally to the increased amount of Work they attempt to accomplish during an interval of similar duration. In other words, if you try to do more than you have been (for whatever reason), you shall succeed.

That may sound like a truism, but it isn’t as simple as is seems, and here’s where my post from July 1st comes in, why a return to blogging (or blogging more regularly) will help me with my creative endeavours: in order to enter my musical works into Finale I must use my laptop, but I don’t even turn it on every day thanks to the ease of connectivity offered by my other devices (the Samsung “Mega” phone is enough to practically replace my tablet, which I use to read music on for playing guitar – more on that in a future post, I promise!) – so – I have gone, quite literally, weeks without using my laptop. I am quite content to compose on paper – using my favourite fountain pens … very old fashioned, but that’s the way I am – writing in ink, on paper … it seems to connect me with the composers and traditions of the past. 

Blogging is something that I enjoy doing, but I won’t do it from something other than my laptop (I wrote my last post from my phone, using a bluetooth keyboard, which isn’t my preferred method, so here I am, on my laptop …), so – by making a commitment to regularly update this blog, I’m making a commitment to use my laptop more consistently… to work more consistently: to get more work done. If I want to get more of my musical work done I shall do other things as well, and in so doing, accomplish both – or more. It is a simple concept that, I’m sure, many of you have experienced without even realizing: like when you started a new routine and discovered that you could, in fact, find an extra hour here or there to do something, and it wasn’t the end of you – and everything worked out fine; or when you remembered, at the last minute, that you had another essay due – next week – but you hadn’t been working on it all semester as you had been on the other essay you were just finishing … but, you still managed to finish it, on time, earning an extremely respectable mark along the way. It happens often because we work well under pressure: we just have to remember when to take a break and recharge our batteries, lest we burn ourselves out (got that t-shirt).

Some of the things that I’m committing to blog about in the upcoming days/weeks/months ahead are the following: the recent compositions I’ve been working on, including several new works for classical guitar; my rediscovery of the classical guitar, including my challenge of playing with fibromyalgia, (chronic pain condition, one of the reasons why there are prolonged periods without updates – but that will also be discussed); and many other topics which I hope you will enjoy delving into with me as I look forward to writing, and sharing them with you.

But first … I’ve got to get some work done in the few days between now and the next World Cup games … ¡Va Argentina! or whoever plays the best ….

 

It’s Alive…!

01/07/2014

As I write this the World Cup round of 16 is playing out, with Argentina and Switzerland nearing the end of the first half without having scored a goal… but that’s not the point of this post, my first in quite some time. I’m writing to say that… well, I’m going to be writing a lot more, in an effort to do more with my music I’ve come to the realization that it is necessary for me to write more words as well. That may not make more sense at the moment, but trust me, I shall explore it – right here (not now… the game is on) – in the days, and months to come.

So, to those who have been waiting (patiently) for me to post something, my apologies – I have been composing a great deal…. but more on that too, in time.

For now… go Messi! 

Discovery

04/01/2013

A poem, for your consideration. This poem comes out of the fact that I’m currently reading “A People’s History of the United States from 1492 – Present” by Howard Zinn, which is an absolutely excellent book (thus far). Zinn looks at American history from the perspective of the person, not the traditional writers of history, which gives a very unique, provocative perspective on the history being examined. It is history unlike any you’ve ever encountered … and, it is truly compelling. The opening chapter is about the “discovery” of the “New World” by Columbus, which served as the inspiration for this poem. I hope you enjoy it (the opening was also partly inspired by Portia’s speech from “The Merchant of Venice” – heavily paraphrased).

Discovery

The quality of mercy is strained
dripping with gentleness
lacking mercy
they claim it has descended from heaven and
it has fallen
unto hallowed ground
made fertile from the blood
of the warriors
lying dead
alongside their children and
the women who died protecting them and
the old men
torn asunder by
weapons of war
levelled against a population
living without knowledge
of colonialism or the greed it arouses
armed only with spears of cane
incapable of piercing
armour worn by visitors
from distant lands
the peaceful Arawak
witnessed the coming of their
worst nightmares
turning the natives of the Bahamas,
Hispaniola, and the rest of the
New World into little more than slaves
forced to satisfy
Columbus’ thirst for gold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Be it Resolved

31/12/2012

At the end of every year it is traditional for people to make resolutions for the year to come, but I’ve never been one to make such resolutions as they often fall by the wayside sooner rather than later. Rather than resolutions, however, this is as good a time as any to set some goals for the coming year. Call them resolutions if you will, if it makes you happy, but they’re really just goals. The only good thing about having a “New Year’s Resolution” is that by announcing it to several people you may have a greater chance of achieving your goal (there’s that word again) rather than if you kept it to yourself.

So … what could I possible want to do in 2013?

In my Creative life:
I’d like to compose and write more and waste less time with things that aren’t productive and I’d also like to read more. Much more.

In my Personal life:
I’d like to continue to lose weight and exercise more. At the end of 2012 I’ve lost 30lbs (since October) and would like to see another 50 leave … that would be wonderful. This means sticking to the new lifestyle that I’ve been trying to adopt which includes virtually no meat and a mostly vegetarian diet/lifestyle (I hate the word diet – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle).

I’d like to meditate more; relax more, be stressed less … and by losing weight (hopefully) be in less pain (though this hasn’t happened yet).

In my Online life (if such a thing can be called a “life”):
I’d like to be more active in – and aware of – Canadian political issues, and involved in more Civil Rights and Human Rights issues in general.
I would also like to (try) to make more consistent, regular updates to my blog(s) and website (oh, how often have I made this goal, only to see it die an untimely death …?).

I’m sure there’s more … there always is, but that’s more than enough for now, I’m sure.

To everyone out there, have a safe, enjoyable, and happy New Year – and remember – it’s only one day … tomorrow is another, life goes on after New Year’s Day (so don’t get too blasted).

Banned Words be Damned!

30/12/2012

At the end of every year there seems to be a desire on the part of some academics to “clean up” or otherwise “repair” the English language. While in this day of hacked-up sentences as a result of the truncation of our language thanks to texts and tweets, there are some things that may be going just a bit too far. Lake Superior State University has, perhaps, crossed the line of being a protector of the language to being inappropriate in their zeal to guard the development of our Lingua Franca.

Whether we like it or not, English is a living, growing, and evolving language. It’s literature is the pulse of its health and represents the best, and the worst, of what is happening at the core of the language. Literature is not, however, the only barometer by which we measure the use of language. The printed media must be part of the equation, and then there is the great democratiser of language, that which allows equal participation to anyone who can find a way to connect: the Net. Through the Internet anyone can express their ideas, in whatever words they may choose to use (appropriateness be damned).

Before the emergence of the Internet we could only rely on the printed word – the published word as the transmission of new language. The spoken word was relatively restricted to regional influences that only went as far as the individual travelled. The Internet allows someone to have as great an influence as some small newspapers a century ago, if not more, thanks to things like Twitter and Facebook, and the dissemination of videos through uTube and other sources. Which brings me back to Lake Superior State University.

LSSU has a tradition of “banning words” based on nominations. On the surface it is a totally harmless, humorous thing, and totally dismissible, but there is an underlying intellectual snobbery here that makes it easy to understand why there has been so much animus and overt animosity towards higher education during the past electoral cycle in the United States. Banning words: think about that for a second; if you are banning what people can say, as a word, how far are they from suggesting which books should be banned … perhaps burned? After all, controlling the way people think – the things they can say – is the ultimate repression. It may very well be a joke, and some of the words are ridiculous … but banning them? How about educating people so that they have a richer vocabulary and aren’t forced to limit their choices to such mundane samples of silliness.

Below is a poem that uses the banned words. The link to the LSSU site is here, so you can see all of the words and their meanings. The banned words appear in capital letters.

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE (yes – using it as the title might be cheating … I’ll use it again, I promise)

It is THE NEW NORMAL for them to hide
in their MAN CAVE when told of the AMAZING
BABY BUMP now growing to GINORMOUS proportions
(but this will be a SHARED SACRIFICE you say
as she retches in the morning)
the BLOW BACK from this comes
as you serve as PET PARENT to your
perpetually neurotic poodle who ruins
yet another cardigan
you will WIN THE FUTURE for you
when you OCCUPY the kitchen and she says
THANK YOU IN ADVANCE …
Before tasting the meatloaf.

Banning words only makes sense when they are words that have no redeeming quality … I’d name an example, but … I don’t like to use words like that. The above cited words, while some may be annoying (Baby Bump?), none are really so egregious that they need to be banned. Amazing? Really?

Thank you in advance for reading, I shall be awaiting your comments in my man cave (yes, like I have one of those …). I just occupy the basement. Oh … good one!

Department Store Santa (Redux)

22/12/2012

This story was originally posted before, re-edited, and posted it again … well, it’s Christmas again, and I’ve revisited the story and am reposting it here, and on my companion blog, as my Christmas gift to you all – as my thanks for reading throughout the year. There are some differences to the story, so if you’ve read it before you might want to give it another glance to see if you can catch the differences (or to see if I’m just pulling your leg … [I’m not ... I assure you ... there have been changes]).

The story was inspired by … nothing – this does not relate to any actual person; it was written, however, after seeing the results of an IED explosion which had killed some Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2007. After seeing the footage of the carnage I couldn’t help but think about the families, back here in Canada, and how they have to keep on living when a part of their family has been violently ripped from their lives on the other side of the world. The story’s dedication is at the end of the text.

I hope you enjoy the story. Have a Merry (Belated) Chanukah; a Joyous Christmas, and a Happy, Happy New Year (or don’t, I don’t care … really, I don’t … I’ve got my own issues … really, I do … honest).

Department Store Santa

Every year since he had turned fifty and his long beard had turned white he had worked as the department store Santa in one of the large shopping malls in the centre of town. Hundreds of children would come to sit on his lap every day in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but as the years passed by and he grew older the old man began to feel more than a small amount of resentment towards the ever growing commercialisation of Christmas. As much as he tried to hide those feelings of bitterness behind his bushy beard and smiling eyes they ultimately filtered down towards the children and their parents. Playing Santa used to be fun, now it was only a job. At the end of every day sitting on his “throne” it took every bit of restraint that he had to not rip the Santa suit off and just quit altogether.

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be, he thought to himself with a heavy sigh, as yet another child recited what was turning into yet another list of expensive computer games and electronic devices that they not only wanted but already knew they would be getting for Christmas; it was a familiar scene for Santa, seeing spoiled children who seemed to lack for nothing and for whom Christmas was a payday of sorts, the day they were rewarded for being good little boys and girls. It was even getting to the point, he sadly realized, where he was finding it increasingly difficult to smile for the photographs that his “elf” would take with the children while they sat on his lap; all he wanted to do was leave this shattered Yuletide fantasy of commercialised fraud and seek refuge with his wife, safe in their home where they had created a lifetime of memories of Christmas’ past. Living in the past had become something of an obsession of late, especially now as Christmas approached.

“Today’s your last day,” his wife had said as she gently squeezed his hand, earlier that day as he took a final sip of coffee before shrugging on his heavy winter coat. They had just finished breakfast in their comfortable breakfast nook and he was preparing to leave for work. The words had managed to cheer him up considerably as he left their house near the Canal and walked to the mall with an added bounce in his step. A faint smile crept over his face for the first time in a long while as he approached the employee’s entrance and made his way to the locker room. He kept thinking about the conversation that he and his wife had over breakfast about retiring completely; the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. He had been able to retire early from his consulting job with the city and had taken on this job as Santa seventeen years ago just for fun, not at all expecting to do it for such a long time. He was certainly not doing it for the money. Of course, if he was perfectly honest with himself, and his wife, he would have admitted that his heart just was not into being around so many people anymore, especially children; not after what had happened to their son Kevin.

As he entered the locker room and put on his Santa suit for the last time this year, and perhaps for good, there was something a little different in his attitude; it seemed as though a weight had been removed, perhaps because the decision to retire was not an abstract anymore, it was coalescing into something he could really see as a distinct possibility. Before he closed the locker door he looked at the handwritten letter that was taped to the inside of his locker. There were only a handful of lines on the page, a total of 169 words if you included the final initial he had signed his name with; all written in haste just before Kevin went out on a mission. Even though he had memorized every word on the page and could recite them forward and backward, he read it once again, his eyes lingering on the swirl and swoops of his son’s neat handwriting.

Yes, he thought, he would definitely retire. After everything that had happened to their family this year there was no reason for him to have to put up with this crap anymore. Why should he? He had worked his entire adult life and had earned his retirement; why shouldn’t he take advantage of that time now and enjoy his winter months without having to pretend to be Santa Claus, the symbol of everything he hated about the commercialization of Christmas. Yes, this day would be different, he thought to himself; it would be the last day that he would ever have to wear this pathetic costume, and sit on a stupid throne while wisecracking teens laugh at him all day. Santa suits, he thought as he walked towards his “Kingdom” for the last time, should come with pockets so you could conceal water guns and other projectile toys.

Throughout the day and a stream of endless, anonymous children, all seeming to want the same mp3 playing robot that could do all kinds of cool, inane things … (he really was getting too old for this, he thought to himself, not for the first time this season), he still managed to keep smiling, reminding himself of the Christmas Eve dinner awaiting him at home that his wife would have been working on all day. He even remembered to laugh at the appropriate places for the children, to smile for the photos, and to give each of the little urchins one of the obligatory candy canes for having had the pleasure of screaming in his ear (it was no wonder he was nearly deaf in his left ear). Since this was Christmas Eve it was busier than usual in the mall, with last-minute shoppers desperate to find that elusive, perfect gift, which was no doubt made in China. This did not prevent the old man from letting his mind wander to what his wife would be doing at home.

His wife came from a family that celebrated Christmas, and Christmas Eve with what could only be described as uncommon gusto; the family was not particularly religious, but they were extremely enthusiastic. When it came to the Christmas Eve meal no expenses were spared: they usually made a roasted ham, a turkey with all the trimmings, potatoes of several varieties, salads enough to sink a ship and more than enough side dishes to feed dozens of people. It was a feast worthy of royalty, and it was a tradition that the family tried to continue, as much as possible.

Unlike other Christmas Eve dinners, this would be a meal only for the two of them; Kevin, their only son had been killed earlier in the year while serving with his unit in Afghanistan, but knowing his wife there would be more than enough food to feed a small army; or at least their son’s unit. This would be their first Christmas without him, without their Kevin, he thought to himself with a note of sadness as the last of the children was admitted through the gates to see Santa; his assistant pointed to the “closed” sign, signalling to him that the gates to “Santa’s Kingdom” were now locked for the season. Thank God, he thought to himself. The words of the letter crept into his mind and he heard them in the voice of his son Kevin, as though he was reading them instead of writing them from so far away.

“Hi Dad, I don’t have too much time to write; the unit’s deploying this afternoon and I only have time to wish you a Happy Birthday before our column leaves the base. Things have been boring as hell – sorry – heck lately. We had a scare the other night when a unit came under heavy fire after an IED blew up the lead vehicle in their column. Fortunately, nobody was killed – they were in a Buffalo – a great beast of a machine. I know telling you and Mom not to worry isn’t worth my time, but – don’t worry. Everybody here has each other’s back – we’re as safe as we can be. Hope Mom treats you well on your birthday! All my Love, Kevin. P.S. My orders came in yesterday! I’m scheduled to ship out in 10 weeks. I’ll be home in time to see you in your Santa suit for the first time. Baring any changes, I should be back in Petawawa by the third of September. Love you, K.”

The words echoed in his mind as the final child approached him. “Baring any changes …” oh, but there had been changes, hadn’t there? The column of armoured vehicles had left their forward operating base at 0500h and entered a mountain pass, to rendez-vous with a group of Afghani tribal representatives, but it had all been too easy. As they left the meeting site they came upon a bottleneck in the road and encountered an ambush: several insurgents with armed with both heavy machine guns and the dreaded Rocket Propelled Grenade, a holdover from Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union decades before. The first RPG hit the vehicle in front of Kevin’s, but even before he was able to leave his vehicle – not the much lauded Buffalo in this case – a second RPG turned his Light Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle into a pressure cooker, killing all five of the soldiers inside instantly with the overpressure caused by the exploding grenade. Nine had died that day, the day the letter had been sent. Nine sons that would never see another Christmas, one of whom was his own precious Kevin.

As the boy approached there seemed to be something odd about him that immediately caught the old man’s attention. He was only about seven years old, but there was something about his eyes made him look much older, far more mature than his years. When he was close enough to speak, he said, in no uncertain terms, “look: we both know that I’m too old for this, right? I’m only here for my mother — it’s been a rough year for …” but he couldn’t continue as a tear began to roll down his freckled cheek.

“Come here, my boy,” the old man said, his voice kinder and gentler than it had been since the Chaplain had arrived with the news of his own son’s death, four months before. “What is it that you want for Christmas?”

The boy looked up at the old man and, seeing his own grief reflected back in his eyes, replied, “I want my father to come home from Afghanistan so we can be a real family again, but he already came back,” his voice cracked, “… in a coffin.” The boy buried his face in the deep plush of the Santa costume and he cried for several minutes while his mother came to get him, visibly embarrassed by the situation. But the old man didn’t mind the tears, for they were his as well, and those of his wife. They were tears that seemed to flow unceasingly, from eyes that saw ghosts in every corner of their house; they were tears that never seemed to run out, that never seemed to lose their sting.

When the boy stopped crying and his mother introduced herself to the old man he took her offered hand and asked, his voice thick with emotion, “would you and your lovely son do my wife and I the honour of joining us for dinner this evening? You see,” he continued, gently squeezing her hand, “this will be our first Christmas without our son as well. He was also killed in Afghanistan this past September,” these final words were barely whispered, but the mother and son had no difficulty hearing him speak.

All she could do was nod her head and do her best to smile, something she had not done very much of since the Chaplain had arrived at their house two months ago. As the three of them left the mall the old man was still dressed in his Santa Claus suit and for the first time in a long, long time he was feeling every bit the part. He wasn’t worried about leaving things in his locker at the mall, he knew he’d be back there at the beginning of the next Christmas Season, to once again sit on his throne amidst the magic kingdom of Santa Claus. After all, he thought to himself as he walked along the Canal with his new found friends, the spirit of Christmas was about finding love even if that was accompanied by a little bit of pain.

Dedicated to the Canadian Servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and all other Peace Keeping Missions, and to their families; Merry Christmas. Peter Amsel, Ottawa.

Structural Ignorance (poem)

29/07/2012

Structural Ignorance may seem like a strange title for a poem, but … it is all about the implied meaning rather than anything else. This is a cross between a “stream of consciousness” piece and, in some parts and ways, a rant; perhaps it is an unconscious synthesis of the two. The most important thing is that it is for you, dear reader, it is not about the “how” it was written, but rather that it is here now and, hopefully, you will enjoy the writing. There is only one other thing that I’d like to mention before we get to the actual poem: when I refer to the increase of knowledge I’m referring to the increases from both scientific discoveries that seem to be made on a daily basis as well as scholastic advancements that are regularly brought to light, advancements that routinely challenge our “orthodox” thoughts on certain topics. There seems to be a wholesale rejection of science and, in many respects, of knowledge in general from certain portions of society these days (were I to name names I’d have to point out portions of the extreme conservative movement in the United States – particularly in the GOP – that openly challenge scientific facts in favour of conjecture, opinion, superstition, and old wives’ tales – anything but looking at something based on evidence and data that can be proven by reputable scientists). That is where the idea of the “Structural” portion of the title came from. Please enjoy, -p

Structural Ignorance

The sum of what we know
pales in comparison
to the incalculable number of things
we cannot begin to grasp

every passing moment
every breath we take
increaes the number of things learned
the number of things discovered

the mysteries unraveled
would make the minds of the greatest intellects
swoon at the prospect of exploring this
vast knowledge
untapped by many more
than those who use it

but is it a lack of curiosity,
of interest,
of ability?
that keeps so many minds
from exploring something
available to all,
or is it fear?

a fear of seeing the world
differently
of discovering that old beliefs
no longer hold true
that superstitions and
preconceptions need to be challenged
overthrown for
better explanations

or are these simply the minds of
lazy souls who have no interest in
broadening their horizons
especially if that means
doing something

(after all, to read requires effort but
to think requires more)

when it is so much easier
to be entertained,
a passive consumer of
instant gratification
broadcast directly into their homes on over
two-hundred High Definition
Digital channels …
or more,
depending on their package

(yes, the generation that grew up with the
Electronic Babysitter has graduated to an
all-out love affair with the latest incarnation of
the Beast in the Box …
and it’s waiting for you)
but none of that matters
in the end

so long as they have their
“reality” shows to keep them in touch
with what the real world is like
when the reality is
the more they watch
the less they know

as the Beast in the Box
devours their intellect
consumming their senses as it
irradiates their brain
leaving them a perfect subject for
indoctrination
for receiving the
official messages
sanctioned by those who
regulate the flow of information
streaming from the Box that
holds their attention so well

it isn’t a conspiracy
it’s just the way it is,
entertainment designed to keep the masses
satisfied with their lives
never realizing that “upward mobility” only exists
in the world seen in the Box or on the Screen
but rarely in real life

but the more people watch the Box
rejecting the knowledge available to them
the less they realize the peril they are in
for just as the blind cannot sense the shadows before them
only hoping not to trip on cracks or bumps
it is the shadows that must be feared
for they seek to overtake those who
in ignorance
show no fear

why should anyone care
or even consider these words
when the promise of the future seems so
dystopic?
(depending on what lens you look through)

in truth, it seems crazy
mad perhaps,
but consider poor Galileo and his battle
with the church
banning his discoveries
silencing his voice
for not agreeing with the Vatican

oh, but they did apologize …
four centuries later

feared by many
disdained by some
knowledge is held in contempt by others and
despised by a few
but in the end it is something we must face and
embrace

some contend it is the key
to understanding ourselves
while others argue
without knowledge
we are no better than the
animals we so admire
on the Box

continuing in ignorance will
only lead us to become
more like them

less enlightened
less evolved
less
human
as we allow
ignorance to prevail.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden) License granted under Creative Commons Fair Use License.

Senseless Waste (poem)

23/07/2012

A new poem for your consideration – this was inspired by, of all things, a commercial on television. I hate commercials – most of the time I don’t even watch them – I fast forward through them … but, occasionally I find myself being assaulted by their senseless mutterings. More often than not, I mute the set – sometimes forgetting to turn the volume back up when the commercials end. No great loss. Please enjoy.

Senseless Waste

They appear with hypnotic regularity
interspersed amongst other ads for
various luxury items and
other choice pieces that
none of us need
or want
at least, we wouldn’t want them
were it not for these sleek productions
aimed at making us believe
this is the most important
cheap piece of shit made in China
that we can’t possibly live without …
after all,
how can anyone possibly resist
talking hammers (oh, they’ll have them, trust me) that
test sobriety (far fetched? really?
what about a backwards bathrobe?
Nothing is too stupid to be sold
so long as there’s someone willing to
place that call …
go ahead, pick up that phone and dial
1-800-No-Sense)
You’d have to be drunk to buy this crap
or the brilliant (and oh, so valuable)
memorial coins
such marvellous reproductions of
the Greatest American Coins
leaden slugs clad in
less gold than is in your mouth
(most fillings don’t use gold anymore …)
these worthless trinkets touted as
future heirlooms or the
answer to problems
we didn’t even realize we had
(especially erectile dysfunction
and yeast infections,
Good God, you’d think
every women on the Earth
had a yeast infection
but there’s a cream for that,
so don’t worry)
while all they really want
is your credit card number
and its expiration date
(in lieu of cash they’ll also take
your blood
directly from your veins …)
without consideration for the
actual cost
the long-term burden
as people become
slaves to plastic
slaves to the credit cards that were once
a convenience, a safety net
something to help
when times were tough
not to fill houses with
two for one offers sold by
hyperactive pitch-men, the
new Snake Oil Salesmen now
reaching a larger audience …
and just when you thought
the deluge was over
one final assault on the senses takes place
as the faces of nameless children
pleading for help with their eyes
appear on the screen
homeless and starving
diseased and dying
unless, of course, you give them your
credit card number and
expiration date
that will make it all
Go Away …
but it doesn’t
it doesn’t go away
they remain for the next running of the ad
for the next season’s campaign
for the next time they plead for money
oblivious to their fame
oblivious to the exploitation being done in their name
unable to do anything to stop them

but … contrary to the myriad voices
preaching doom at us
in the guise of news
in between their pathetic appeals for money
something can be done
even as we are assaulted by uninformative
noise
unfair, unable to balance on
one or two feet
often found firmly implanted in their mouths
as they gleefully promise
“the end is near”
as though it is an
accomplishment
of theirs
(and perhaps it is,
something they have organized a rally for perhaps)
but
something can be done
right now
something that won’t cost you
One Red Cent
(though it may help you
recover your senses)
all that has to be done is
turn them off:
shut them out
don’t let their voices reach your ears
change the channel or
turn off the box altogether
… after all,
TV is just a passing fad.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Peter Amsel Creative Commons Fair Use License

 

Imagine (poem)

13/07/2012

Here’s a new poem for your consideration. There isn’t really a need for much explanation here, at least, I hope there isn’t that much need for any … so long as you haven’t been living in a cave for the past 11 years, you probably won’t have any difficulties understanding the allusions that I’ve made in this poem. On the other hand, if you don’t understand it … it means one of two things: the poem is a failure or … you’ve been living in a cave for the past 11 years (and/or are hopelessly out of touch with the way things are transmitted by the 4th Estate … but, I could be wrong …).

Regardless, I do hope you enjoy – or appreciate – this short poem and, as always, I appreciate all (non-spam) comments and endeavour to respond to all – as well as checking out your websites (when you include them).

-p

Imagine

The cries echo in the streets
made dusty by the years of war
craters churning up dirt
depleted uranium shells
covering the landscape
burning through genetic connections
searing the DNA of children
foraging in the streets
begging for food from passing soldiers
found toys
made from discarded pieces of militaria
scattered amongst untold numbers of lost childhoods
countless lives destroyed
displaced if not completely reduced
from ashes on ashes
to dust permeating everything
dust in everything

intermingled generations left gasping for breath
as a nation is ground into the dust
bombed into the middle ages by a nation
far more advanced
better equipped
with unlimited funding,
or so it would seem
while many children
go to sleep at night
with empty stomachs …
in America
just like they do in
Afghanistan or
Somalia or
how many other places
around the world
so many of which are ignored by the press
by the government
with nothing to gain from helping them
we don’t even hear about their struggles
lest our consciences be pricked by such images
spurring us off our apathy by triggering
compassion for others
(even while bombs continue to fall a world away)
feelings for people we do not know
compassion flowing from hardened hearts
to save the lives of the innocent
while instead our leaders commit to spend
obscene amounts of money
on wars and rumours of war,
on maintaining their battle against terrorists
who are still playing
with toys in the dust.

Copyright (c) by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden). Creative Commons Fair Use License Applied.

Diversion (poem)

05/07/2012

Here’s something that came to me this morning … I hope you like it.

Diversion

The pain was quite real
tearing through the flesh
with talons fashioned from
stainless steel and
other elements
sharpened to an impossible edge
slicing through anything
unfortunate enough
to find its way
in front of the devouring blade

the pain
still real
as the flesh
is sliced open
but now
there is no blood

the blade moves
swiftly
with deliberate, decisive strokes
revealing inner truths …
nothing hidden from
prying eyes
as the pathologist
completes the autopsy.

© 2012 by Peter Amsel (Creative Commons Fair Use License)

Remember – (poem/rant)

04/07/2012

It has been quite some time since I last posted to Echoes of Solitude, and for those that have subscribed to this site, I apologize for letting you down … it was not my intention to depart from this blog for such a protracted period of time. Having said that, I would like to present you with a recent poem called Remember. This is not just a poem, it is a bit (well, more than a bit) of a rant – running the gamut of several of the things that are peeves of mine, from advertisements for “enhancement” products for men, as well as the pharmaceutical obsession with the male erection and their seeming lack of interest in taking on the realm of the antibiotics battle – a battle that we risk losing as things get progressively worse with MRSA and VRSA becoming more prevalent in hospital-based infections. Then there’s fracking, conspiracy theories, and – perhaps – the possibility of government run mind-control. The stuff of great conspiracies.

In many ways my writing has been a battle for a number of reasons, not the least of which has been the lack of the political expression that I have been willing to put into my written words – almost as if I were afraid of fully articulating my ideas. Perhaps I have been reluctant to fully embrace my background in poetic works as much as I could have, but I realize now that this has been a mistake, and I have to thank the readers of this blog and my poetry for helping me see this: your comments have been invaluable in allowing me to see that I should not hide my voice. Thank you; I hope you enjoy this poem. More shall be posted soon.

Remember

Walking through empty fields
you are distressed to find
no others at this intersection
suddenly appearing in the midst of nothingness
having wandered through days of regret, the
nights of empty passion
left scattered
by the wayside of forgetfulness, while
others find little comfort in the heat of their
sticky embrace
brought together by the carnal needs
long thought to be tamed … by
other means
(surely not when you can
increase the size of your erection, isn’t
that the most important thing?) to
make it last
oh, so much longer
… Sustain it, to
make every stroke count
because, after all,
the ability to get it up
trumps the fight against anything else that
may be trying to kill us -
who gives a damn if there are microbes, unseen
bugs we’ve trained
that are resistant to every damn thing in the arsenal
against the things we can’t see,
but which can kill us
just easily as you used to
spit into a glass across the table, the
things we used to do
for fun
when we weren’t concerned
about dying
when we weren’t concerned
about the ground beneath our feet
belching up flammable fuels
mixed up in our drinking water
when we weren’t concerned
with words like “fracking” and
“hijacking” – when a conspiracy was
a few guys in a back room
with a weather balloon, with
little green men dressed up
in Air Force Uniforms …
But times have changed, indeed
they have
remember how they used to
inject us in grade school, sometimes
during recess, but always
before we left for the day …?
Neither had I, but
that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen
it only means the injections
suppressed my memories, just
like they wanted … if only
I could remember … if only
I could remember ….

Copyright © 2012 by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden) Creative Commons Exceptions for Fair Use

No, what’s YOUR problem?

17/06/2010

Stigma by the Numbers
People with mental illnesses face many battles as they try to cope with the various illnesses trying to take over their lives, not the least of these is the stigma of having to live with something that they have absolutely no control over. Think about how unfair it is to be judged for something that you have nothing to do with: it’s like being called a bad person by virtue of your skin colour or your sex. While we obviously try to not tolerate these prejudices in an ‘enlightened’ society, they nevertheless continue to take place every day. People with mental illnesses face the harsh judgements of people who have medieval understandings of the realities of the illnesses and their treatments.

We see this lack of knowledge when we hear people speak so carelessly about mental illness: how someone is ‘depressed’ because their team lost, or someone has a ‘split-personality’ and must be schizophrenic. What they don’t realize is that true depression is a serious illness that can, if left untreated, lead to death, and that schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with ‘split personalities’; that is a myth perpetuated by bad movies and an ill-informed media.How Misunderstood Mental Illness is in America

When dealing with issues such as suicidal ideation or serious suicidal states it must be made clear that these acts are not done merely to attract the attention of others. When someone only wants the attention of others they will ‘grandstand’, declaring their intentions in such a way as to attract that attention, usually before an actual or serious attempt is made. However, an attempt at suicide, regardless of whether it fails or not, is a call for help that should never be ignored.

Stigma can only be defeated when we answer ignorance with reason, demonstrating that people with mental illnesses have as much to contribute to society as anyone else.

Adventures in Recovery

14/06/2010

Living with Bipolar Disorder is an ongoing challenge that I have been facing for the past twenty years. The constant mood swings make day to day activities arduous tasks, all for the simple reason that I can never know from one day to the next what my mood will be like at any given time, making advanced planning an exercise in frustration.

Thanks to the care of a very dedicated physician and a team of health care professionals I have learned many strategies for coping with this disease, and a cocktail of medications has also helped to bring my symptoms under control, but the cycling from hypo-mania, agitation, and depression still continues with annoying regularity.

A few years ago I discovered a new form of therapy, an additional treatment protocol to be added to my existing recovery plan that consisted of medications, relaxation exercises, regular appointments with my doctor, and maintaining a healthy diet. This new protocol was simply named Dr Seuss.

Now, before you get the idea that I’m immersing myself in the fantastic stories of Theodore ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel, that’s not the case at all, though that might not be such a bad idea. No, Dr Seuss is my cat, and my therapist. Even as I write this, on paper (my laptop having been temporarily shunned so that he may have full access to my lap) his loaf-like form is stretched out upon me.

My cat therapist, Dr Seuss. Truly, the sweetest thing.

All curled up, he has no idea how much his presence in my life serves as a balm to a troubled spirit; as his unconditional love, supplemented by cat cookies, regular feedings and cleanings of his litter box, go a long way in keeping the darkest moments to a minimum and allowing the light to shine once again.

While there are different therapeutic routes available to someone living with an affective disorder, including medication, CBT, and psychiatric rehabilitation, there is one form of therapy that has recently become part of my recovery plan that has had greater benefits than any other: cat therapy. My cat, Dr Seuss, has become an integral part of my recovery process in ways that I could not have imagined when I first brought him home from the pet store almost three years ago. While I may have provided him a home he has provided me with more than he can ever know.

My recovery began ten years ago when I was diagnosed with the illness I had been living with for over fifteen years; an illness that still causes annoying disruptions to a life that sometimes seems more out of control than in. A combination of medications and regular appointments with my doctor has helped as recovery strategies. I also participated in psycho-education programs for several years, learning to recognize symptoms and learn about goal setting and other coping mechanisms for dealing with mental illness, but none of that has been able to compare with the therapy provided by Dr Seuss.

When I spend even a few short moments in the presence of Dr Seuss, a cat with a gentle spirit unlike any that I have ever encountered in any cat that I’ve ever seen before, I experience a sense of calm and joy that supplants all other emotions. It is impossible for me to feel bad when I am with Dr Seuss, he destroys negative emotions the same way the sun melts ice. If I feel depressed and pet him the dark feelings seem to melt away, flowing out of my hand, sliding off of his slick black and white fur.

Seuss reclining - his favourite pose


There is something transcendent about being in the presence of this gentle creature; even after the worst of days it only takes a few minutes in his presence and I can feel myself calm down in a way that would not have been possible without the use of medications. What is really significant about this ‘pet therapy’ is the way Dr Seuss gets me to stop looking internally all the time. Rather than focusing on my own emotional state I have to make sure that I’m taking care of his needs as well, something that requires me to look externally. Some days it would be very easy to stay home and hide from the world, but if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to go to the pet store and get the necessary supplies that I need for my little friend.

By taking care of a creature that only wants to return my love with love (when he isn’t engaged in his favourite activity, that being sleeping) it becomes possible to see that there are things in life that are more important than the universe centering around the ‘me, myself, and I’. Of course, some may not be ready for such drastic ideas, those being the ones for whom the self is too much to let go of and for whom suffering has become a profession, but that need not concern me for now. Thanks to the help of my little doctor, and the continued work that I’m doing with my other doctor, coping with bipolar disorder has become something that I can see myself living with, something I couldn’t say so easily ten years ago.


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