Monday, May 31, 2010

Under the Knife

As my ten hour surgery looms closer, my world collapses into an unfocused gaze at the huge blank wall before me. Several essays have been started and disappear, my yellow pads mysteriously vanishing in the clutter of my apartment. Even to write this short paragraph, my head drops and pen lays still between sentences.

I had goals set for myself to accomplish so that I could be productive in this healthy phase and then recuperate with peace of mind. I planned to have first chapters submitted to agents, taxes done, bills paid and a full schedule of gigs to anticipate. My Dad wanted me to have a job waiting for me on the other side.

Instead, I languor in a mental abyss of uncertainty. After going under, I have no idea what comes next. All questions seem unanswerable until I get this behind me. There is an amazing sense of calm within me right now, a deep trust that I am supported. I am looking at my needs and learning to ask for help.

I have a friend who will be with me in my vigil the night before and hold my hand in recovery. Another will bring me home to Vermont a week later, My daughter will come from Oregon to play cards with me in that first week back at home. I bought some comfortable, but nicer, clothes for lounging another month or two on the couch. Taking such care of myself is new to me, a man who stoically defers to the wants and needs of others.

My sister Lane sent me a link to an article that showed how not alone I am in all of this. In her own life, their home is in a turmoil of transition and all is out of place. Her new computer is full of glitches and she too is finding it difficult to write.

The article says the planets are aligned to help with this. We are so many in the midst of significant transformation, raising our own spiritual energies and combining as a species to elevate the pulse of the Earth. The end of May through early July (my time of surgery and recovery) in particular is a perfect state of limbo, an opportunity to shed old skins and habits before embracing a new way of being.

To a straight and close-minded person, this could seem like just so much “woo-woo” gobblty-gook, but I am fascinated by the community of soulful friends who not only believe it, but begin to celebrate openly their certainty that the Universe conspires to deliver us from evil to a utopia of love.

If this were my own tale and I felt so isolated, I might bury my head and blame my mood on depression and the prescribed medications, but Vermont and the Internet connect me to a broad spectrum of individuals growing ever more comfortable to speak this language. I am not alone and the vocabulary is not of my own weird invention.

It is not coincidental that my life collapsed with that scaffold in October on the very day I was writing a dis-orienting essay on the role of my father in my life. Nor is it a surprise that the injury would be to my groin, the very core of my being and sexuality. As I danced with the concept that life should be more sensual than rational, my body found the means to resist my heart’s impulse.

So soon I face the very real knife of a surgeon, no matter how microscopic, and the unknown of anesthesia. It seems, however, that the choice of how much I want to heal myself is really in my own hands and heart. To my friend I answer that my biggest fear is of the unconscious, the letting go and floating while they work on my body. I want her to hold my hand to help me stay grounded, a part of this blessed Earth, this great mystery of life. There is much I still have and want to learn.

And if it should be time to shed this ultimate skin and move on to something else, I pray these words and my few humble songs have some sort of value, some faint residue that inspires hope that we can each face our looming unknowns with dignity, strength, courage and determination, but mostly with honesty that even in fear, we can still move forward.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Another Skin Peeled

With a date for surgery suddenly set much closer than anticipated, my focus becomes sharpened on the result, my movement, appetite and emotions influenced by what will help me best. Training for a marathon is an easy comparison: I have to be diligent, disciplined and committed.

Despite the heart-warming wishes and promises of support, prolific and profound, it is astounding and sobering to feel so alone. Even were I to have a mate to hold me close, or a mother who could still understand, the fear and the pain and the much longer ache and effort to come round this are ultimately my own burden to bear.

Wonderful friends and family have heart-fully volunteered, but they all have their own busy lives, families and trips to manage. My inner demons manipulate every opportunity to assert the belief that my need is just too inconvenient. The most insistent challenge for me right now is to ask for the help, remaining both flexible and clear—within myself and to others—about my needs. The response inspires tears of gratitude, choking my voice even as I learn to give them sound.

Physically, after six months of squatting on the couch, I am heavier and slower. Unable to run, I can walk more and more, ever eager now to exercise a friend’s dog. For my birthday, I gave myself the first massage of my life (could be a new addiction!) and will see a woman later this morning about Reiki.

After so many McDonald’s on the musical Road and weakness at mealtimes all these months, my body will be lightened by fresh vegetables, more tofu, rice and wonderful melons. My brain meditates on a diet of visions of being tubeless in a few months and playing soccer next year, as active and healthy as ever.

On the eve of my birthday this week, I spent hours in conversation with a good and wise friend. All illness begins in the mind, she said, and can end there instantly when we are ready, confirming and confusing for me how uncomfortable I feel about the location of this injury and the circumstances of my life surrounding it. Certainly, there are accidents in life and we can place too much emphasis on our abilities to create our physical world, but in this training regimen, a stiff dose of contemplation surely seems appropriate.

That my life has been in financial and emotional chaos is self-evident, described by many (including myself) as a disaster and disappointment. The root chakra at the heart of the pelvis is all about family, emotional and financial security, and having a solid footing on this earth. The sacral chakra at the groin is all about relationship and sexuality.

She suggested that after so many years of caring for others, especially women (a mother, four sisters, two wives and three daughters!), I have taken the opportunity to rest and care for myself; let it be all about me and let others take care of me. The little boy, rediscovered on my New Warrior weekend, is lounging in the attention to the injury, crying out, “Look at me! Look at me! See all that I have suffered!”

Later in the week, she could see the difference in my energy. To the best of my ability, I accept the limiting condition of my present and embrace a tubeless, fully functioning future. Today, I stand straighter, breathe more deeply from the belly like I used to do. My throat feels more open, less constricted. By pulling back my shoulders, my heart is opened. When I play music, I dance more, even though it produces more blood in the urine bag.

With my opened heart, my eyes are brighter. I feel almost giddy. I listen more to other people’s stories and talk about music instead of health (mostly). I have a million (well, not quite) blog ideas and am so excited to stand up and play with the band. I embrace the details of my part-time job and appreciate the gifts of abundance, love, security and good health that already surround me, blooming just as beautifully as the flowers in this spring celebrate the approaching summer.

The certain date of the surgery means I am no longer in limbo. There is a plan to move me forward, work to be done to release me from this semi-immobile state. The surgeon can clear out my urethra. I am in charge of my chakras, no longer stuck. When another friend heard they had moved others around to get me in earlier than I had been told, she cried out with joy, “Congratulations! You’ve done the work you’ve needed to do around this. It’s a graduation!”

image designed by Che Schreiner

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Roads More Travelled

Last week the band took a little road trip to play three shows in three nights in three states. Ian called it a tour and talked a lot about the RV we will soon have to ride in style. In heavy traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, we even spotted a nice van pulling an equipment trailer and all agreed that set-up would serve us well to drive across country next summer…if only…

As it was, we were in two tiny cars. I drove the Redster with Ian, Dan and Sawyer. Kent followed my every turn (and there were way more than was needed to find each gig), his efficient little blue Toyota right on my tail, loaded black with all the gear.

He had a cooler full of juice and bologna sandwiches and got many miles to the gallon. We had a few McDonalds and quick-stop munchies and kept adding duct tape to hold on a piece of side stripe that was blowin’ in the wind. In Connecticut, I was pulled over for having a head light out, but we were rarely going too fast.

The conversation was crisp and funny, poking holes in each other without offending, and there were long comfortable silences when each was sleeping or drifting under their Ipod. I enjoyed adding the ages of my three passengers together and still coming up short of mine—further proof (if I needed any) in my red “sports” car that I am in a crisis of youth.

For why else, given my age and tiny bank account, would I take to the road, treat the band to unhealthy burgers (I can still feel them in my belly) and sleep on couches to play for small audiences and a smaller percentage of the door? Too easily acquaintances must be snickering behind my back, shaking their heads with pity. I have close family members who clearly do.

The truth is that it did not cost us so much (and we did get a few dollars back) and I had a lot more fun than on a long week-end at the shore or in the mountains. Along the way was so much music, good laughter and lots of family and friends, I do not fault myself in the slightest.

Two nights the guys stayed with my sister outside Philadelphia. We came into the house very quietly very late. Most of the day in between—with little travel necessary and lots of time available—the instruments were cleaned, plucked and strummed. I learned how creativity thrives in that atmosphere of comradarie as we tossed chords and rhythms around as if we had no where to go, nothing else to do, and not a care in the world. Practicing a little, we experimented a lot, toyed with harmonies and challenged each other with cover tunes in alternate styles.

The first night was a small coffee house with a good reputation for music. My cousins and a few others showed up and the owner promised that on other nights—not to take it personally—the place could just as easily be packed. Road weary, the light was golden and the adrenalin strong, rousing us to play a strong set, solid and vibrant. The list pointed towards practicing for the culminating show, with several highlights I wished had been recorded.

The next night we were headliners for a venue that was probably better than us—impressive names posted on the walls—but I invoked the home town advantage by creating a mini-reunion to get enough high school friends there. We felt like royalty with a real Green Room, soft sofa and a fridge stocked with water. The soundman set us up sweetly so the songs really resonated as best we could play them.

Wanting so much to play, sounding so good to ourselves, when the opening act failed to show, we were even happier to add a second set, eliminating the need to cut out any of our favorites. Again the adrenalin flowed, the audience was loaded with friends, family and well-wishes. Except for confusing the names of my band mates, we rocked and soulfully crooned as well as I ever imagined we could.

The final night was at the Bitter End in New York City, a stage that has hosted the finest names in the genre. My third time this year, the aura is no less intimidating and exhilarating. Even playing acoustically, that we were a band with a drum kit stretched the limits of the singer/songwriter ambiance, but it is just too much fun to play with these guys to leave them behind. I had no interest to stand on that stage alone. It was bliss to play the grand piano on “Times Like These” and a few days later discover a video of Nora Jones fingering those same keys.

All of the excitement was punctuated most clearly by a side event Saturday afternoon that crystallized miraculously why intuition is leading me so strongly towards playing more music. Describing a vivid dream to my son a few days before we left where both my parents died within hours of each other, I said it was so real I would not be surprised to receive a call later that morning. Instead, I made the call to the administrator at their home and requested that to warm up for our show in the evening, we could play acoustically for the residents in the afternoon.

On a quick visit in the morning, my mother, deep in Alzheimer’s, had not the slightest recognition of me, just another strange face looming in front of her. Spruced up and wheeled in to our impromptu performance, however, the music clearly reached inside and aroused her confused soul. Her eyes grew wide. Her foot wrestled to find the beat. Even her lips worked to mouth the words to songs she had once known so very well and loved so very much.

My father, beside her, held her hand, radiant in his slight smile with a love that has connected them for seventy years. My eyes locked on hers, my voice scratched with tears, I choked on notes as they reached into all of our hearts. Each in the band was touched powerfully, remarking afterwards in our so many different ways how profoundly humbling it was to be a part of creating such a moment.

So we spent more money than we gained, travelled so many miles in so little time, ate and slept in such unhealthy ways. The balance of friendships, family and musical moments was tipped so heavily to the positive, however, I am no sooner home than sending out emails to arrange the next trip, hoping it goes farther and longer to spread the excitement we are so grateful to feel.

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