Archive for the ‘General Blogging’ Category

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.

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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 ….

 

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).

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.

Welcome

24/12/2008

Echoes of Solitude, my newest creative experiment. This is my early Christmas present to myself (and to all those who come by to read) and, in a way, the fulfillment of a New Year’s resolution that I didn’t make last year, but was planning on making this year, that being to contribute to my blog more consistently. This blog is not going to replace The Inner Voice of the CrazyComposer, but will instead be a complimentary site to it, providing me a venue for the other things that I have been doing which are not usually appropriate for posting on a site that has become much more focused on political issues.

For those of you that may be wondering about the address of this page, “aufzuleiden” is a German word and is from a quotation by a famous poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. “Wie viel ist aufzuleiden” translates to, roughly, “how much suffering there is to go (or get) through”. I will write about this at a later time.

Enjoy the Echoes of Solitude ….