change of scenery

Vacation is like deodorant; it can cover up things that stink, but when you reach the end of the stick things start to stink again.

We really needed a vacation, and for a few days it was in doubt whether we would get to go at all due to Nicole’s mental health, but she improved to the point that we could realistically leave home for a week. She flew with my wife to North Carolina because she gets too anxious to be in the car for more than a few minutes. I drove the 10-hour trip with all our stuff and picked them up at the airport.

We spent a lot of the time sitting at the beach house, watching the endless waves, feeling the breeze, and doing very little. I checked work emails a couple of times, and I worried about the cats and the house, but otherwise our problems were left behind for a much needed break. The sound of the surf made me feel more calm and relaxed than I had for quite a while, and I could feel the stress melting away.

Oh well, at least we had a few days of relaxation before the next crisis appeared. Nicole caught an uncommon fungal skin virus from somewhere, and it took over the rest of our vacation. After a visit to an NC doctor and another doctor after returning home, hopefully the treatment will kill the fungus.

So we’re back at home now. The cats were fine and happy to see us, and I had to mow twice because the grass was several inches too tall, but nothing bad happened while we were away.

We’ll see what happens with everything that was going on before the trip. Will Nicole’s mental health improve or go backwards? Will my wife choose to see someone about anxiety, or just talk about it because she’s too stubborn to take meds? Will we need to replace our septic system at considerable expense? Will I walk away from my job? How long will it be before I say “fuck it all” and go on my own vacation?

Strangely for me, I didn’t spend a lot of time overthinking about everything during the drive to NC and back. I think I concentrated more on the act of driving, in part due to the rain and the traffic delays. I had lots of music, which always helps me stop thinking. Yes, I sing in the car, but very poorly and an octave lower; I also drum on the steering wheel. One time I lost a drumstick out of the car window, so I had to listen to Def Leppard. (I know, that’s bad.)

shine sweet freedom

My wife is finally out of lockdown. She still feels a little fatigued and weak, but that may be from sitting or laying down for 10 days. Two of the cats seemed indifferent to her return to the living room, but the blind one crawled on her lap very soon after she sat down.

I made a rough mp3 file of different cuts from songs in my collection which have something to do with being free (although I missed a couple of songs, but oh well). I called it the “Freedom Medley”; tell me what you would think if you heard this after being in isolation for 10 days. When she came out of the bedroom this morning, I greeted her by playing it on my phone. She liked it.

mindfulness update: end of the road

My most recent therapy appointment was online because his child had Covid. I suppose that gave me a small advantage as I prepared to tell him how I felt about the mindfulness exercises he had recommended.

Let me backtrack: at the previous appointment, we went through a mindfulness exercise where I was supposed to simply listen to all the sounds around me, not trying to process them but just listening. I listened, but my active brain was spinning in the background; I was processing the sounds, as well as thinking about how I was getting distracted, trying to refocus, and continually wondering if I needed to stop seeing the therapist. For the second exercise, he went to the office’s kitchen, and while I thought he was rummaging through everyone’s lunches, he returned with a protein bar. The exercise was to fully taste and smell the protein bar, feel it in your mouth, and be fully aware of the process of eating it. I did what he asked, but my active brain was thinking the entire time that this was stupid and unhelpful (although the protein bar was very tasty).

Back to this week: As he greeted me and asked if there was anything I wanted to talk about, I looked at the notes on my scratch paper and started into a somewhat-prepared monologue. I said I didn’t think mindfulness exercises were helpful for me because I was stressing so much over doing them “correctly” that I couldn’t do them at all. I can’t shut my brain off for more than a minute or two unless I’m in the right place and time. I let him know I didn’t want to fail therapy for the fourth time, but I felt that some other kind of therapeutic exercises might be more helpful.

I told him that under the right circumstances, I can naturally achieve some kind of mindfulness practice when I am writing creatively, listening to familiar music I enjoy, hiking or being out in nature, or when driving and exploring new places. Sometimes it may only last for a short time, but for a while I can let everything else go and concentrate in the present moment. I also said that writing has been more productive for me than any other kind of therapy, and that it has successfully allowed me to deal with a lot of anger, sadness, and negativity more effectively than with the efforts of any therapist.

I think he was a little surprised, but he took it in stride. He said that we don’t need to do the exercises if I felt like they weren’t doing me any good. He agreed that writing can be therapeutic, and he thought for me writing became a sort of self-directed trauma therapy. We discussed how writing allowed me to take the past fears and memories in the dark corners of my brain, examine them carefully and objectively, and help them lose their power over my current emotions.

Anyway, it was a good appointment, and next time we will be talking about my social anxiety and what triggers it.

the road trip of ’86 and eddie van halen

Many, many years ago, when I was 16, our family and another family (The Rileys) took a road trip in our RV from California to Ohio, making a half-circle around the country. The Rileys wanted to see their son in Cincinnati; Mr. Riley was going to a church convention in Indianapolis and wanted to visit several churches on the way; Mrs. Riley wanted her best friend, my adoptive mom, to come along; A-mom volunteered to do most of the driving; and I just wanted to see something different than my hometown. 

So off we went, six people in a 25-foot RV. I’ll spare you the details, but the high points were:

  • driving US 50 in Nevada, the “loneliest highway in America”
  • having part of the RV catch fire in Utah (we put out the fire)
  • riding the Pikes Peak cog railroad in Colorado
  • playing basketball and fighting with our foster kid, Bob, at a church in Indiana
  • visiting the Arch in St. Louis
  • getting a really bad sunburn at King’s Island waterpark in Ohio
  • competing in the “Bible Bowl” at the convention in Indy (basically a bible trivia contest)
  • being dissed by the cute Ohio girl who gave me the stiff arm (she liked Bob instead)
  • going to a Cincinnati Reds game
  • seeing the Neil Armstrong museum
  • camping at Yellowstone National Park

Four weeks and 6000 miles later, we all piled out of the RV. The aftermath included The Rileys headed for divorce within a year; Mrs. Riley eventually came to live with us; Bob and I hated each other, and he eventually moved out; and that I thoroughly enjoyed the trip but realized I was socially inept.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

Mr. Riley liked Pizza Hut, and we stopped at several along the way. One time there was a jukebox, and I saw something that would make everyone irritated. Soon, blasting through the speakers was Van Halen’s “Eruption”. Eddie Van Halen tapped and wailed and screamed through the Pizza Hut, and everyone was stunned. At the end A-mom asked “WHAT WAS THAT?” I just laughed.

genesis mixtape

I’m a big fan of the music group Genesis, primarily the stuff from 1980 and before, including the progressive rock phase of Genesis’ work with both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins on vocals. I don’t get into the arguments over which singer was better, which albums were better, or whether Phil “ruined” the band in later years. The band evolved and stayed relevant for a long time, and in the end sold a shitload of records; they must have done something right. Oh yeah, there was also an album with Ray Wilson, which I enjoyed but most people did not.

Want to irritate a Genesis fan? 

  1. When you hear a Genesis song, say “oooh, I like Phil Collins’ music!”
  2. Ask, “What do you mean, Peter Gabriel was in Genesis?”
  3. Ask, “oh yeah, they play Christian music, right?”
  4. Ask, “Who’s Steve Hackett?”

I started out being confused exactly which songs belonged to Phil Collins and which belonged to Genesis, so being a child of the 80s, I needed to buy some cassette tapes. Thanks to the “Buy 8 cassettes for the price of 1” deal from Columbia House Music Club, plus the bargain basement racks at the record store, I was able to build my collection going back through their catalog and sort out which songs were on which album. By this time I have at least one copy of every official release, and some unofficial recordings, courtesy of the numerous internet repositories of concert bootlegs.

When I was in college in Reno, my girlfriend Beth was also a Genesis fan, and she made me a cassette with the albums “Trick of the Tail” and “Wind and Wuthering”. It became a kind of souvenir after our breakup, until eventually my car stereo ate the tape. Years later I made the same copy for my wife, but never told her the significance of it.

Once during college I was enrolled in a Dream Interpretation class (yes, a real class for credit!). We were supposed to have written down a dream we had to share with the class, and I hadn’t done the assignment. I was listening to the song “Mad Man Moon” in the parking lot, and decided to plagiarize the song for my dream. I took the imagery, jumbled it up a little, then wrote it down and took it to class. Solid A on the assignment. It was only later that I realized there was a risk that the instructor might be a fan also.

I only got to see Genesis live once, at the Oakland Coliseum in 1992. It was a great show, although they were past their prime in my opinion. I would have loved to have been at some of their shows in the past, but I guess I will have to be satisfied with bootlegs of those shows. However, the tribute band The Musical Box performs a theatrical recreation of early Genesis shows, complete with vintage instruments, lighting, and costumes. When they performed their Selling England By The Pound show, I felt like I was transported back in time to 1972.

low brass, high anxiety

I was a good trombone player back in high school. I was also good with a tuba and a baritone, but the trombone was what I enjoyed the most. I earned a trip to the state honor band playing trombone, which I thought was pretty cool even though I was seated in the 3rd chair.

When I went to college in Reno, I joined the marching band and immediately realized I needed to elevate my trombone game. I was suddenly surrounded with serious music students who could play circles around me, so I needed to get better. Even though I was still 3rd chair, I improved, and I knew I belonged.

After my short stay in Reno, however, I didn’t play my ‘bone for a couple of years. The local junior college had no music program, and there was no community band to play with. I missed playing.At college in Hippietown, they had an infamous marching band, but I didn’t have time to commit to practice and performances.

There was an informal jazz band, so I joined that group hoping to have fun. Unfortunately it turned out there were serious musicians in that group as well. One time we got to a place in the music where there was supposed to be a trombone solo, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The director, trying to help, said “This is yours, man – just blow!” I had no idea how to improvise, and I quickly became intimidated and embarrassed to be there.

The last day I went to the practice to tell the director I was leaving. I made up an excuse about not having enough time to be able to practice, which was mostly true, but not the real reason I was quitting. As I was walking out the door, he turned to the group and, exasperated, said “Great, there goes our trombone player!”

That hurt. I felt like I was failing, and abandoning the group who had accepted me. Then again, I’ve abandoned lots of people and places over the years, and not dealt with the wreckage. It turns out it gets easier each time, and you care less much faster.

The sting of that day stuck with me, and I never played the trombone for anyone again. I kept it long enough to find out neither child had interest in playing music, then sold it for $100.

ten albums

There was a thing on Fakebook where people shared a list of 10 classic albums that influenced their musical taste as they were growing up. No one asked me to play, so I’m putting my list here.

I grew up as a sheltered child, so I didn’t get to listen to rock music until I was about 13, and I didn’t get to buy my own music until I was 15. I didn’t start discovering my own tastes until after I started building a collection thanks to the Columbia House Record and Tape Club (kids: ask your parents). Once my membership had outlived its usefulness, my dog joined, and later my 80-year-old uncle joined and got 8 cassettes for a penny too.

Anyway, here are 10 albums bought from age 15 through 18 that have shaped my listening preferences since then. In no particular order:

  • Rush – Permanent Waves. My first Rush album was in the bargain bin at the store where I worked, and a co-worker recommended it to me. Best suggestion ever.
  • Genesis – Three Sides Live. Not my first Genesis album, but my most nostalgic one. Purchased in Australia, it was a gateway drug to their older music.
  • Phil Collins – Face Value. Purchased in my first order from Columbia House. I was initially confused which songs were Phil’s solo work and which songs belonged to Genesis.
  • Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms. I said I was sheltered; I once seriously asked a friend if Dire Straits were satanic, and they laughed at me. That made me hate church.
  • Peter Gabriel – So. At first I just liked the hits, but when I discovered Peter had once been with Genesis, I became interested in his older solo music.
  • Yes – Classic Yes. Another album which introduced me to the wonders of 70s progressive rock.
  • Miami Vice Soundtrack. I loved the TV show, and I memorized all the words to the Vice Rap (“The Mob, a full time job, known to extort and steal or rob!”)
  • Huey Lewis and the News – Fore! Maybe not the strongest album in the list, but Huey and the gang were the epitome of coolness.
  • U2 – The Joshua Tree. Once I played this repeatedly during a trip to Death Valley in an attempt to feel the music; it became a favorite afterward.
  • Van Halen – 1984. My introduction to hard rock, and what’s more rebellious than the smoking baby on the cover art?

Finally, number 11 with an asterisk goes to Porcupine Tree’s “Nil Recurring” EP, which has influenced everything I have listened to since I discovered them in 2007.