My Year Dark

How does one begin to write again after a year in the dark?  I suppose one word, one paragraph, one inkling of an idea at a time.

The short reason for my absence has been that I’m busy.  My music career has picked up, my dating life has been hyperactive, and my philosophical course load has been overwhelming.  However, I miss the time I used to take to explore the what I have learned.  I miss the inane Photoshop madness and the non-sequitur tangents.  I miss taking a germ of an idea and processing it until it makes a tiny bit more sense.

So let’s start out small.  I’ve learned a lot over the past year, and my life has changed dramatically.  Here’s a tiny glimpse of my year dark.

  • Tuba player and polka band manager are indeed viable career paths
Tuba Player and Band Leader

Tuba player and band leader are viable career paths, but only if you have the right sunglasses for the job.

Attention people considering a career in the arts: you may work crazy amounts of hours and push your body and your mind to the limit, but success is conceivable and achievable.  Tax time for 2014 has come and gone, and the results are in: I am financially viable in my career as a professional musician.  Between gigging, booking, teaching, and random financial opportunities, I have not had my house foreclosed upon, I have not moved in with my parents, and I have not been stranded with no insurance and crippling debt.  I am not a billionaire, but I’m certainly a working-class musician.

So in that sense, the grand experiment I set out to explore 2 years ago by leaving my job at Temple is at least a temporary success.  To the former coworker who emailed me the other day to ask if I wanted to apply for a job opening at Temple, no thanks, I’m doing fine.

  • The balance between music as a business and as a passion is a constant challenge

I am just starting to come to terms with the fact that having a successful music business does not mean I am feeling creatively satisfied.  I have to balance the massive amount of time that running a music business takes with my own downtime, as well as my time to create musically.  I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but I’ve been feeling the strain from it and scheming to make more of my music career about actually making music.

  • Dealing with loss takes an indefinite amount of time.

A friend posted a great comment on a thread about the end of my relationship that I think sums things up nicely:

Apply ZERO timelines to your emotional and mental recovery. I could have never fathomed how long it would take me to recover from my failed marriage. I kept pushing myself to believe I was better and OK when I wasn’t yet, which further complicated things for me unnecessarily…

True words that I remember every day.  Literally every day.

  • When confronted with a new challenge, I can surprise myself.

Last June I got a call I’ve been waiting to get for a few years.  The Asphalt Orchestra, a 12 piece chamber marching band out of Brooklyn, was looking for a sousaphonist to do a few touring shows with and my name had come up.  I had wanted to play with them for a few years, ever since I saw their video of one of my favorite Zappa tunes, Zombie Woof.

I started practicing the music at the end of June for two performance dates in September.  Since I was in Philadelphia and the rehearsal was in New York, there was only time for one at the beginning of September.  Meanwhile, I was tasked with memorizing the tuba part for 19 challenging songs and learning the choreography by watching YouTube videos.  I had never done anything like it, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to meet the goal.  But sure enough, by the end of August, it was almost complete, and our shows in Atlanta and Stillwater, Oklahoma went fantastically.

It’s really made me think about how I have the capability to push beyond my perceived limitations.  If two months of concentrated practice can accomplish such a massive goal, what would happen if I applied the same dedication to my own projects?

  • Some ladies really like Valentine’s Day.

Dating in 2015 has been an enlightening, exciting, and surreal experience.  It seems like there are so many more striations of relationship type, commitment level, and lifestyle than when I last approached dating.

However, as much as things have changed, I got a bit of a shock on February 14th.  Apparently Valentine’s Day means a lot to some of people.  Lesson learned.

I’m dipping my toes into the kiddie pool of bringing writing back into my life.  I have a separate writing project I’ve been working on, I’ve been learning more and more about teaching, and I have a guileless naivete about the personal relationships in my life.  If that’s not a reason to keep this blog in your peripheral vision, I don’t know what to tell you.  At least, nothing to tell you besides the fact that Buzzfeed can’t play the Pixies on the sousaphone and their Photoshopping is not nearly surreal enough.  I think you know what the better choice is here.

Obituary for a Relationship

broken heartsMy relationship with Katie recently came to an end.  We met online New Year’s Eve 2006 and had been together for about 7 years until we recently went our separate ways.  The cause of death is still under investigation, and probably will continue to be over the next few months in therapy.

There is a certain paradoxical quality to still caring very much for a person’s well-being, yet feeling that the relationship should end.  I suppose it’s much more common than television, movies, and literature make it out to be.  It certainly does lead to some extremely bittersweet feelings and a whole wash of different emotions. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the cause of the breakup, partially because it’s not relevant, but mostly out of respect for Katie’s privacy.

During our final therapy session together, the therapist turned to me and said, “Dan, even though you initiated this breakup, you’re certainly experiencing the loss created by it.”  In the sad state I was in, I knew it was true, and yet I didn’t really know what it entailed.  Of course when someone is a fixture in your life for so long there will be a loss when they leave.  I felt ready to deal with that.

After we said our goodbyes, I started picking up the pieces of my life, analyzing what was necessary to keep in this new open future before me.  The sadness began to slip away and be replaced by excitement about all the avenues open to me.  There were new people I could meet and vast amounts of free time open to me.  I began to immerse myself in performing music, gaming, and socializing.  I dedicated larger amounts of time to swimming at the local YMCA.  And naturally I lost about 10 pounds on the “breakup diet” (which consists of wondering why you should bother eating).

Just as things were really starting to look bright, I began noticing certain stressors in my life causing an inordinate amount of angst.  I was starting to feel panic and emotional exhaustion.  After an exhaustive analysis of the situations causing me stress and finding no clear solution, I decided to revisit the idea of loss that the therapist had suggested to me.

DING DING DING DING DING!

In my excitement to move forward in my life, I had neglected to take the necessary time to grieve over the loss of my relationship.  Even though the reasons I had for ending it were wholly valid, it doesn’t change the fact that a huge chunk of my life over the past 7 years had gone away.  I began to notice strong emotional stimuli, such as certain songs or locations, would overwhelm me with sadness.  Despite my encounters with the stimuli, I still couldn’t figure out how to bring my feelings to the surface and address them.  It was seemingly random and it greatly affected my mood at any given moment of the day.

I am so fortunate to have a strong network of amazing friends to talk to during this time.  In one conversation when I brought up the question of how one grieves the loss of a relationship, my friend suggested I hold a memorial.  One one hand, the concept of it was absolutely ridiculous.  Who holds a funeral for a person who is still alive?  As I thought about it, though, it began to make more sense.

The cultural institution of a ceremony to mark the passage of a life is ubiquitous.  Most people wouldn’t dream of deciding not to have a funeral after a loved one died.  Despite the pain and the sadness, we need to mark the importance of that person in our lives.  We need to share the pain of the loss with our close friends, and we need to have our community come together and be a part of the commemoration of that person’s influence in our lives.  We need to know that our living loved ones stand with us in our greatest moments of despair.

I began to picture what that would look like in my situation.  I imagined my closest friends sitting with me as I talked about what I had lost when the relationship ended.  I could visualize their comforting me as I said my last goodbyes to this huge part of my life.  I felt intense pangs of grief, but I knew that when it was over I could start to rebuild from a more peaceful and resolved place.

Perhaps it’s good I could imagine it, because I couldn’t bear to make it actually happen.  Between the grief, the intense emotions, and the rawness, it felt too masochistic, even though I could recognize the catharsis that would follow.  So I did the next best thing: I started pulling up all the songs about death and loss.

Maybe it’s a bit odd that I actually have a few to choose from.  I decided to start with one from my past: Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.’s For (Blue).  The album is a tribute to the late Jeff Buckley and is filled with songs about loss.  And sure enough, by the time I reached track 3, Space, I found myself able to expose and come to terms with some my own sensation of loss.

I continue to be surprised by how this process parallels grieving the death of a person in your life.  There was the language of “loss” the therapist offer to me.  In looking for solace from my other therapist, Google, I found a site that cited the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of loss and grief as common reactions to the end of a long relationship.  I dismissed it at the time, but I was clearly not willing to face the truth of the matter.

I know I’m far from done my healing process.  As the brilliant Carmaig De Forest says in another song about death, “I know that life goes on / I know that time heals all wounds / I know that this one isn’t healing anytime too soon.”  However, understanding what it is I’m actually grieving is the first step.  Understanding how I can go about grieving it is an important next step.  Day by day, moment by moment, I’m coming closer to a point where I can integrate this chapter into the rest of my life and be at peace.

The Crack Seen Round the World

Two days ago one of my gamer friends forwarded me a link that was making rounds in the Magic the Gathering community.  Odds are good that you’ve seen it as well.  Apparently a man went to a high level tournament, found people with exposed “plumber crack” and posed next to them.  He then posted the results to Reddit where it jumped to Buzzfeed, Kotaku, and… Jesus, is that Time.com?  And it has shown up on my Facebook feed about 5 times in the last few days.

crack photoLooking for the link?  Well you won’t find it here.  Your Google skills are masterful enough.  Looking for a better picture?  Again, I’m sure you’ll have no problem seeing it once you Google it.  The picture I’m including just shows the man and what he was intending to ridicule, and protects the identity of just about everyone else caught in the picture.

Wondering why?  I’m absolutely furious that someone would do something so cruel and invasive, and in the name of the game that I love.

Whether it’s motivated from a truth or a cultural bias, throughout my life I have had to be on the defensive about my love of RPG’s, video games, tabletop games, and Magic the Gathering.  I clearly remember the time as a 15 year old I was accosted by a group of boys while entering a comic store and asked if I was going to “jerk off to the comics I was buying.”  I played the RPG Vampire the Masquerade in dark basements where we never spoke about the campaign outside of that safe space.  I have gone through relationships in which my partner told me I was too old to play Magic.

I even remember a time recently when a fellow Magic player and I were at a bar and someone asked us how we knew each other.  Before I could say anything, he blurted out “we play cards together,” and changed the subject.  Apparently “cards” can be interpreted as “poker” which is much more socially acceptable.  Even though I never call up my Magic-playing friends and ask to play “cards.”

Vampire

Vampire the Masquerade circa 1994

Maybe that’s why some of my closest friends are those I met through gaming.  We had to endure isolation and potential ostracism to do this thing that we loved so much.  I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but it’s true.  The picture to the right is of 4 people in my gaming group from high school, and I still am in touch with them all today.

Over the years I have acquired 20 or so close friends who play Magic the Gathering.  They are a diverse group: men and women, large and small, socially awkward and smooth.  I have friends in this group who follow every sporting event and others who just don’t care.  I have married friends, single friends, polyamorous friends, straight friends, gay friends.

And this is why I get so angry and sad when an article like this goes viral.  Because instead of seeing the diverse group of fascinating, empathetic, and unique people that are allured by the complex game of Magic, they see a bunch of overweight slobs who dress poorly.

Let me get this out of the way too: in no way do I blame the victims in this situation.  There have been calls of “well if they had found clothes that fit, they wouldn’t have been in this embarrassing place.  Maybe this is a wake up call for them.”

Sorry, you don’t get to dress your cruelty as a public service message.  Even if this was meant as a PSA (which the creator alleges was part of his inspiration), this is a terrible way to do it.  Publicly embarrassing strangers for how they look is absolutely unacceptable.  The photographer specifically chose to focus only on these people, thus this is the perception that outsiders see of who a Magic player is.  Way to make a PSA that hurts the community as a whole.

Remember that these are actual humans with lives that go beyond the unfortunate fame they unexpectedly acquired. In an email thread, a friend of mine posted the following:

“Having been ‘that guy’, I don’t find this funny. It was pointed out to me once and a large production was made out of it, really fucking juvenile and I wanted to punch people, hard. Yes, I own a belt (several actually) and always try to wear baggy enough clothes to cover up, sometimes it just happens.”

And there’s this this tweet:

"I know someone who's crack is pictured here and he is extremely embarrassed. He wishes this had never been posted." on FB

Yes, the people exploited in these photos might have had the option to be more on top of how they were exposed that day.  But the guy who posted it also had the option of whether to post it or not.

So what do I want to get out of this?  Why am I writing?  Mostly to explain to the people who are sharing this on the Internet why I don’t think it’s funny and why they might want to think twice before perpetuating this story.  I also want to defend this game that has brought me so much happiness.  Not from the people experiencing a temporary wardrobe malfunction, but from the large population that desperately wants the stereotype of what a Magic player is to be true (sadly including the man who posted these pictures).  Unlike the two dimensional snapshots taken at this tournament, each of us is a human with a detailed, complex life.  If we could only get our fellow gamers to treat us as such, maybe the rest of the world would see that too.

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