Category Archives: Introspection

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.

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The Ethical Atheist

My mother was raised Catholic; my father was raised Jewish.  So perhaps it was a bit of a surprise the day in second grade when I announced to my predominantly Christian classmates that the Greek pantheon of gods was the one I wanted to follow.  I’m not sure if I really believed it or if I was just set myself apart from my classmates (if the latter, mission accomplished, as they reminded me for the rest of the year).  It also could have been the only way I knew how to let my classmates – and by extension the world – know I didn’t believe in their Judeo-Christian God.

My penchant for atheism only grew from there.  Later in elementary school I would desperately try to crack the arguments of my classmates that hinged on the simple truth “the bible was written by God, so anything written in it is true.”  In middle and high school, I had many friends who were devout Christians, though I never quite felt I could relate. When I got to college, I got particularly adamant about my disdain for religion.  I remember in one class when the teacher asked why many pagan holidays lined with with Christian holidays, I proudly replied “because Christians like to convert things.”  I started making plans to rewrite the Christmas carols with secular lyrics instead, and every year I avoided the dreaded “Christmas Sing” in the main hall of my school.

After 9/11, I became even more convinced that religion was a misguided and deleterious institution.  Certainly I was horrified that the hijackers would murder thousands of innocent people in the name of their god, but I was also disgusted by the jingoistic Christian-led backlash in the United States.  Watching people with supposedly Christian values demonize and call for the extermination of Islam invoked the memory of a history we were doomed to repeat.

At the height of my atheist zeal, I was asked to play a show with the band overlord at the Godless Americans’ March on Washington in November 2002.  It was a rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in which atheists, humanists, and freethinkers spoke about subjects such as creating a national identity for atheists, the separation of church and state, and the harmful effects of organized religion.  It was exhilarating to finally be surrounded by people with whom I could identify, in a context where we could rebuke the religious.  I had a great time laughing at the ridiculous religious people who believed in the “invisible man.”

Lest you believe I wasn’t actually there:

So there are a few things I want to point out in my rhetoric to this point.  Things like my “disdain” for people who follow the tenants of a religion, and how I “rebuked” the religious.  I was trying to “convince” my classmates that their blind faith in the bible was misguided. I’ve even used the word “zeal” to describe my passion for the subject.  It kinda sorta sounds a little like I was doing and saying the same things that irritated me about organized religion.  And while I do believe that atheism is attacked most frequently by a cultural machine that equates “no god” with “no morality,” I also think we atheists do ourselves no favors by sinking to the same level.

This has become increasingly more apparent with the development of social media and Facebook arguments.  For one thing, the ad hominem arguments against the religious are vicious.  “Jesus freak idiots who can’t think for themselves believe in an invisible man.”  “Faith is a waste of time, as science subsumes and disproves every piece of fiction the believers come up with.”  The slightly tenable arguments of those statements are hidden underneath a pile of insults.  It’s no wonder no one ever gets convinced to change their minds in these situations.

Indiana Jones with Sousaphone

Throw me the idol, I throw you the sousaphone!

While we’re on the subject, why do we try to change people’s minds?  Certainly when I’m directly affected, I may need to persuade someone to “book my band,” or “put down that hacksaw,” or “throw me the idol.”  There are so many great ways in which one can go about his or her life.  Your belief in a higher power does not threaten my lack of belief.  There may be specific times where this isn’t true, such as if a law were passed making prayer mandatory in school.  But that’s not the fault of organized religion.  That’s the fault of organized people, as my depiction of vehement atheism demonstrates above.  There is plenty of space for both belief systems, and plenty of overlap of lifestyles outside that single pillar.

These days I’m as much of an atheist as I’ve ever been.  I still don’t believe that a higher power exists, and I still don’t see the appeal of faith over facts.  However, my disdain for religion and the religious has been replaced for an admiration of the beauty of a belief system outside my own.  That something so delicate and intangible can be the source of so much happiness is delightful to me.  I find the discussion of why we believe what we believe to be an incredibly exciting and interesting exercise, as long as both parties are treated with respect.

I regret that my younger self couldn’t see when he was saying things about religion that hurt other people’s feelings.  And also that he couldn’t see that he was so threatened by the implications of what atheism meant that he had to show disgust towards the institutions of religion just to make a point.

Last Christmas I was surprised to come to terms with the fact that there are things about the holiday that I absolutely love.  I love the music (and the religious lyrics that come along with it), I love the lights people put up, I love the traditions that bring people together.  I even love the story of Christmas, regardless of whether Jesus was really born in the summertime, regardless of what race he was, and regardless of whether the holiday came together as a way to co-opt the Winter Solstice.  Sure, the false sense of righteousness about the War on Christmas makes me crazy, and I’m not really into buying presents.  Overall, though, I really do love the season.  I wish I could have been so brave when I was younger.

I don’t like the term “Ethical Atheist,” as it implies that the natural state of atheism is unethical.  What I mean by it, though, is that we can overcome the cultural perception of atheists as lawless selfish people.  We can also overcome the cultural perception of atheism as a nihilistic and vindictive way to give Christians a “taste of their own medicine.”  The tools of elitism, condescension, and ridicule don’t get us anywhere.  Let’s instead be tolerant, respectful, and perhaps even engaged with the fundamental stories in the lives of our fellow humans.  Let’s be ethical in our approach to religion and open up the door for others to be ethical in their interactions with us.

2013 – A Statistics Odyssey

Once again we come to the arbitrary demarcation of the beginning/end of the year.  This may sound like some sort of zealously charged statement about how humans overly segment time, but really I just was looking for a more interesting way to say “happy new year!”  Maybe I should have just said it.

What a year it has been for me!  I started out in January using extra vacation time to experiment with doing music full time.  Now in December, every day is an experiment-in-progress of doing music full time, and I can’t even remember what “vacation time” is.  I’ve had the pleasure (and the requirement) of developing my business skills as a musician, a band leader, a promoter, and a booking agent.  I played with a variety of bands I never played with before, and made a few new bands of my own.  And I fell short in a number of ways that I continue to attempt to remedy.  Such is everything.

So without further ado, here are my accomplishments for the year, broken down by category.

Musical

111 gigs
23 distinct music groups
11 new groups
2 groups I formed or co-formed
19 days of busking in the train station
1 incredibly lucrative October (thanks Polkadelphia!)
5 Sound Decisions podcasts

Unmusical

1 job I left
2 websites designed and built (here and here!)
2 CD layouts designed

Blog

2104 views (minus anyone reading this post)
37 posts
Most popular post: Connecting the Dots (La la la la)
Least popular post: A Curious Mind
Favorite post: Everyone Maeks Mistakes

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to cook some Serbian food for my upcoming New Years Eve show with the West Philadelphia Orchestra.  I hate to cut it short, but there are only so many hours in the day (that I’m devoting to blogging).  Stay tuned for next year when:

A new Neon and Shy cd gets released!

A new band gets formed!

A new kind of cookie gets baked!

I get off the computer and start my day!

Happy New Year everyone.  Onward and upward.  Up and at them!

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