That Joy You Need, Restricted By One Thought.

As I was laying on an MRI table this afternoon, there was a lot going through my mind. And it wasn’t just the radioactive chemicals that had just been injected into my system. I had a lot of time to think while needing to be still for between 10 to 15 minutes. And the fact that I was on that table on the date that I was on it, made those thoughts a little more impactful.

Today happens to be the anniversary of the date that I lost my mother. I’m not going to discuss that too much here since I have before, and you can read that by clicking here. But, as I was on that table today, I was very much aware that the majority of doctors that I had spoken to over the past few weeks had told me that there probably isn’t anything to worry about, but we should check stuff out anyway. The reason that I brought my mother into this entry isn’t just due to the date, but because she refused to see doctors and who knows how things may have been different if she had seen any.

The reason that I was having tests done today is that I didn’t feel right for a few weeks. I never had any pain, but I had enough discomfort to know that something wasn’t right. I also had a slight shortness of breath at times, but this was a shortness of breath that felt different than if I had been exercising. As I said, things just didn’t feel right. So, out of an abundance of caution, I called my doctor. After the initial exam, it was suggested that I go to an emergency room “at some point soon.” After going to the emergency room the next day and having all of my tests there come back good, it was suggested that I see a cardiologist “at some point soon.” The cardiologist examined me and said “I don’t think we’re going find anything wrong,” but let’s schedule some tests just to be sure.

I took a lot of comfort in the lack of urgency from any of the doctors that I talked to. But, I know that heart issues do run in my family. My dad’s had some issues, and his dad did as well. I’ve already said that my mother did not go to doctors. So, I’m going to learn from the examples of both of my parents and get myself checked out.

When I started this process a little over a week ago, I told someone that I don’t know if I would have done any of this if I didn’t have the great health insurance that I have thanks to my job. I would probably have genuinely been afraid that whatever tests were done (and whatever the aftermath would be) would have been too expensive for me to deal with. The fact that anyone has those thoughts is awful. Nobody should have to put off getting themselves checked by doctors due to financial concerns. But, it’s a reality for a lot of people. The amount of money that my emergency room visit a few weeks ago costs is an amount that I would not have been able to pay just two or three years ago. But, luckily for me, I don’t have to pay anything more than my co-pay.

I’ve noticed how much less stressed that I am over the past two years than I was before. The fact that I have a job that pays me more than I’ve been paid before and that I have great health insurance is part of that. This may sound like an exaggeration, but for a little while, I was working basically so I could afford to get back to work. I would be able to go out and do things every once in a while, but almost every time had me spending my last dollars to do so. I’m in a much more comfortable financial position right now and it’s definitely helped my mental state. Money may not buy happiness, but having enough money to not worry about if I’ll be able to put enough gas in my car to get to work (and not needing to look at your bank account numbers to confirm it) is quite a relief.

I know that some of you have never had the concerns about money and health that I’m talking about in this entry, and I’m slightly envious of that. But, those concerns are quite real, and not just for me. There’s way too many people on the planet that will die because they don’t see doctors. The fact that some people can’t afford to see doctors should enrage you. Being able to afford health care should not be a bigger concern than the reason that someone is seeking that care. You can’t say that people have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” if the “life” part isn’t taken care of.

Getting back to my exam from earlier today. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any concern from doctors that I’ve spoken to. But, the way I’m looking at it now is that maybe today I found out what’s not wrong. I may need to see more doctors if my discomfort continues. Well, to be more accurate, if it returns. Ironically, since I’ve started seeking help with this, my symptoms haven’t really shown up. Naturally, why would they? But, I’m in a position to be able to get myself checked out and not worry about it. I’m lucky.

Today’s date reminds me of loss. The past year has shown me a lot as well. As we’ve been locked down with not much to do because of a Pandemic, I’ve really learned to appreciate things a bit more. Now, we’re starting to get back to “normal.” I am fully vaccinated. I have begun re-integrating myself into society and I’m grateful that I’m able to do that. I try my best not to take anything for granted. I’m in a good place right now. I’m able to enjoy myself. I’ve learned that I don’t NEED to go out to concerts or sporting events to have fun. I don’t NEED to be in an in-person gathering of friends to enjoy their company. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do all of those things again.

As I look past, I appreciate history. As I look forward, I appreciate opportunity. As I look at today, I just appreciate things in ways that I never have before. It’s a good thing. I hope it lasts.

I Raise a Sunken Smile.

I’m still in a bit of the malaise that I talked about during last month’s post. But, I’m taking steps to improve my situation. I don’t usually start off a post by immediately continuing the theme from the previous month. Who am I kidding? Almost all of my posts from this time last year were about how I’ve done very little because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. And that’s going to be my topic this month, but a little bit different from my previous posts.

We’ve all be dealing with this Pandemic for over an entire year now. Some of deal with it by being socially distant. Some of us deal with it by wearing masks. Some of us deal with it by staying away from people as much as possible. That’s basically been my year. It’s been easy and difficult at the same time. But, I’m dealing with it. I’m doing this for the well being of every single person that I care about. Some people very important to me recently let their guard down ever so slightly and ended up with positive COVID cases in their household. It’s that easy for this to keep going.

But, here he are. One year in. It’s been a long and winding road. We’re not at the “light at the end of the tunnel” yet, but I believe that we’re in the tunnel. I have received both my two COVID vaccination shots and in just a few more days, I should be fully “good to go.” However, since we’re not 100% certain if I may still be able to transmit COVID from one person to another, I will still be doing my part to stop the spread. I won’t be as social as I was before. But, then again, I wasn’t very social before.

As much as I have enjoyed my solitude over the past year, and honestly, I have made the best of it, I want this to be over. I want the option of doing things and not having to worry about COVID. I very much used to wearing a mask for much of my day, but I look forward to the time when I don’t have to. And before any of you start with the “You don’t have to now” crap, let me make this very clear. Yes, I have to. I have to because it’s the right thing to do for myself and for you.

I will be returning to the gym in a few weeks. I look forward to being to use treadmills and ellipticals. I look forward being to able to do some things that I haven’t done in over a full year. I know that I’ll be required to wear a mask while at the gym, but I’m okay with that.

There’s other things that I hope to be able get to do over the next few months. Maybe I’ll able to get them done. But, more than anything else, I just want things to be better. I want them to be better for me and I want them to be better for you. Me wearing a mask, getting a vaccination, and staying socially distant is me making an effort to make things better for you.

But, as far as making things better for me. I have a vision of how I want things to be for myself. The key word there is vision. I’m not going to say more about that right now. Some people may know what I’m talking about, but I won’t discuss specifics yet.

A few times over the past year I’ve mentioned part of what ruined my motivation to get myself into better shape was that there were no 5ks for me to run. I had planned to run at least 8 of them in 2020 and they were all canceled. Well, now it’s just about the time of year when I would be getting myself ready for my racing season to begin, except there’s still no races. But, I’m hoping to get out there and train as if there are races in my calendar. I need to do that. I need to get myself in shape again. I know that I will face some mental blocks along the way with this, but I’m going to do my best to get past those and just keep going forward. Hopefully, I’ll be going forward quick enough that I’ll be completing 3.1 miles in 30 minutes or less. We’ll see how that plays out.

I’ve never liked the word “normal.” I’ve gone into that before. What’s “normal” for me may not be “normal” for you. But, I want to be able to return to the sense of “normalcy” that I had before the COVID Pandemic. As much as I have enjoyed my #PandemicLife “normal,” I don’t think it’s fulfilling enough for me. And now that a decent amount of people in my social circle are vaccinated, or will be soon, I think returning to the old “normal” may be something that could be possible soon.

We’re not there yet. But, we’re closer than we were. Progress is good. Let’s keep moving forward and let’s bring as many of us with us as we possibly can.

I Become the One You Haven’t Seen For Years.

I always write an entry at the end of each year where I look back and ask myself the same question that I asked myself one year earlier. “Am I better off than I was one year ago?” 2020 has been a weird year. It’s been like nothing that we’ve ever experienced and I hope that none of us have to experience anything like it again. The COVID-19 Pandemic that hit us this year changed so much about how we go about our daily lives. I will usually look at my year-end entry from the year before to make comparisons. I want to remind myself of where I mentally was when I wrote whatever I wrote in the previous year. I want to know what I thought I may struggle with. I want to know what my goals were. I want to be able to accurately gauge my personal progress. But, in a year when I wasn’t able to do much, there’s a few things that I can’t compare. I also can’t get upset about it.

Because of the Pandemic, my social life pretty much came to a screeching halt in March. There were no concerts, no sporting events, no BBQs, and no parties. I have barely seen anybody on a social level, in any capacity since this started. I attended a concert (Mr. Bungle) on February 11th and I saw a comedy show (Daniel Sloss) a few days later. Since then, I haven’t done anything in any type of group setting. This is completely not like any year that I’ve had in recent memory. Concerts are what I do. I usually attend many shows in any given year, and I had some plans for a few in 2020. I had some road trips planned. None of that happened.

I was hoping to compete in more 5K races than I had done in previous years. I was looking to add one or two that I had never done before, but again, the Pandemic happened. I figured that training for the races would allow me to drop the extra weight that my doctor had recommended that I lose when I saw her in January. However, when the races started getting canceled, I pretty much stopped training and I ended up gaining weight. I am glad to say that I’m basically back to where I started and I’m making sure to do my DDP Yoga workouts daily. I’ve recently started doing some more intense and longer ones. And just like every single year-end entry that I’ve ever written since I’ve started doing DDP Yoga, I still end the year not being able to do the Black Crow pose. However, the last time that it came up during a session, I was closer than I’ve ever been before. Maybe it’ll finally happen in 2021.

I spend A LOT of time in my entries and social media talking about Mental Health. I know that 2020 has been very difficult for a lot of people. I ALMOST feel bad saying this, but my mental health is great. Social anxiety is a big thing for me. I’m not comfortable in group settings. Regardless of how often you may see at a party or with a few people, I can assure you that it’s not easy for me to be there. However, that really hasn’t been an issue for me for much of the year. All joking aside, I feel great. My social anxieties are more calm than I can think of at any point since I’ve become aware of them. However, I do fear that my re-integration to society could be difficult for me when things calm down and we can get back to “normal.” But, I’ll slowly cross that bridge when we get to it.

Another bright side to doing practically nothing in 2020 is that my bank account is doing better than ever. I am an “essential” employee. I didn’t lose a cent of pay during the year. I understand that not everyone that I know can say the same. I am beyond grateful that I have a job that made sure the employees are taken care of during this unprecedented time. There’s been so many points in my life where I was so worried about money. I would have to cancel plans with friends because I couldn’t afford to keep them. That isn’t a problem now. It hasn’t been for a while. It’s an amazing difference. There’s been a few times during the year where I had to replace something that broke or pay for something that would previously have financially ruined me. It’s not a concern for me right now. I have the financial “safety net” that I’ve never had before. I’m actually almost confused by the level of comfort that I have here. But, I’m not going to let it be a bad thing.

Much like the Black Crow Pose not being achieved in 2020, I also didn’t achieve my goal of reading 12 books in the year. Both of these things seem to be common issues in my year-end entry. But, as I said earlier, I got close to the Black Crow. But, I didn’t read nearly as much as I would liked. I spent more time watching old TV and movies than reading. I will try to make the 12 books (or more) goal happen in 2021.

I noticed that one of the things that I wrote in my 2019 end of year entry was that I had a hard time writing entries in 2019 because I had a good year and I felt that I didn’t have much to talk about. I had the same problem in 2020. And as weird as 2020 was, I don’t have much to complain about. I do know a few people that got sick with COVID, but I didn’t lose anyone to it. I’m lucky there. Too many people can’t say the same thing.

My New Year’s Resolution is ALWAYS the same. It’s always “I want to make it better.” I want my 2021 to be better than my 2020. But, in addition to my own personal efforts to improve things for myself in 2021, it’s my wish that everyone else does their part to get through the Pandemic, so we can put in behind us. I really do hope that the entry that I write on this day in 2021 will have a little bit more to talk about. But, as I wrap this up, I’m very glad that I have enough perspective to know just how good I have it right now. By no means is this how I thought my year would be, but I also cannot complain about it. I’m healthy. My friends are healthy. I may not see my friends in person, but I have plenty of ways to communicate with them, and I do. 2020 was weird for me, but it wasn’t bad for me.

But, to answer the question that I asked at the beginning of this entry, “am I better off than I was one year ago?” Honestly, yes. I really think that I am. I hope that I’m able to say the same thing again next year.

2020 Album of the Year

1- Paradise Lost – Obsidian
2- Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
3- Katatonia – City Burials
4- The Pineapple Thief – Versions of the Truth
5- The Amity Affliction – Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them
6- Scott H. Biram – Fever Dreams
7- Dark Tranquillity – Moment
8- Human Impact – Human Impact
9- Body Count – Carnivore
10- Gangstagrass – No Time for Enemies

For all that was wrong with 2020, and there’s a lot, it was a really good year for new music. Six of the ten bands that are in my Annual Top 10 list are appearing for the first time. I actually gave some consideration to doing a Top 15 for the second time, and I easily could have, but I kept it to a Top 10.

From the moment that I heard the first notes of the first song on Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, I knew it was a special album. That song, “Darker Thoughts” starts off slow with clean vocals and then, at the right time, breaks into a rage with growling vocals. It perfectly set the tone for another great album from a great band with a great legacy. This is actually their second consecutive Album of the Year in my rankings, with this following their 2017 album, Medusa. I joked after that album that they should retire because their sound have gone full circle, and after 30 years and 15 albums, how could they keep going as strong. But, they did.

Not only does “Darker Thoughts” set the tone for their 16th studio album, but it kind of set the tone for 2020 as a whole. In addition to that great song, I also recommend “Fall from Grace,” “the Devil Embraced,” “Ravenghast,” and especially “Forsaken.”

Mr. Bungle broke up in 2000. They reunited in 2020 and released a new album, but in reality that album is their (previously unreleased) 1986 demo tape. I don’t know what type of impact it would have had if it were released in 1986, but in 2020, the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, is one of the best records to be (officially) released during the year. I saw Mr. Bungle play this album in its entirety in February. That was actually the last concert that I was able to attend before the pandemic put a stop to that. I knew basically none of the songs that were played that night, but it was still very memorable. The album was released on October 30th and the band did a live streaming concert on Halloween, where they played it again. It’s just a really good 1980s style thrash album released in 2020. In fact, this entire story is a very 2020 thing, and also a very (Mr. Bungle front man) Mike Patton thing to do.

Tracks that I think stand out a bit on the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo include “Anarchy Up Your Anus,” “Hypocrites / Habla Español O Muere,” “Eracist,” and “Methematics.” In fact, “Methematics” sounded somewhat familiar, because it’s obvious that Mr. Bungle used parts of this unreleased song and used it in their 1991 self-titled (official) first release in the song “Love is a Fist.”

Before Paradise Lost in 2017 and 2020, Katatonia was the only band that got the top spot in my Top 10 list (2009’s Night is the New Day and 2012’s Dead End Kings). Their 2020 release, City Burials is really a great album, and could easily have given Katatonia their third Album of the Year, if it wasn’t for the two albums that I’ve already spoken about. Like Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, this album starts off with a great song, “Heart Sets to Divide,” that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Other good songs that I like include “Lacquer,” “the Winter of our Passing,” and “Flicker.” I also want to state that “Behind the Blood” is a great song that includes one of the best lines that I’ve head in a long time, “You’re a torch to the temple of depression.” Seriously, that’s a powerful line.

I’ve been aware of Bruce Soord’s The Pineapple Thief since he and Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse collaborated on 2013’s album of the year, Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve heard some stuff from The Pineapple Thief over the past few years, but not much of it really did much for me. That changed with Versions of the Truth. The first track that I heard was the title track from the album and it peaked my interest enough to listen to more, and I’m glad that I did. I think the album is a great combination of what I like from bands like Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and Anathema. It’s a good album that did not bore me at any point while I was listening to it.

Other tracks that I think stand out a bit include “Demons,” “Too Many Voices” and “Our Mire.”

While six of the ten bands to have albums on this year’s list have never appeared on it before, The Amity Affliction is the only one that I didn’t know of until 2020. I heard their song “Soak Me in Bleach” while I was driving and I really liked it, so I looked into them and saw that they had just released an album, Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them. I got a copy of the album and enjoyed it quite a bit. I don’t generally listen to things in the Metalcore genre unless the albums really stand out. This one did.

The first three tracks of the album “Coffin,” “All My Friends Are Dead,” and (the already mentioned) “Soak Me in Bleach” start the album really well. “All I Do is Sink” and “Born to Lose” are also good songs to check out.

Scott H. Biram’s Fever Dreams was released on the day after Thanksgiving. It was basically a surprise. There was no advanced notice. No singles were released. And while, I’ve been listening to Biram for 15 years, and basically knew what I could expect from one of his albums, I still didn’t know what to expect. What I got was one of the most polished, yet still raw sounding, albums that I’ve heard from him. The title track is one his more heartfelt songs in his library and the song “Can’t Stay Long” sounds like it would fit on the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack, which (to be clear) is complimentary. This is another really good album from “the Dirty Old One Man Band.”

Other great songs from the album include “Single Again” which I would put up against any popular country song and “Drunk Like Me” which has the trademark Biram sound that made me a fan from the start.

Very few bands that I listen to are as consistent as Dark Tranquillity. They put out quality album after quality album, and Moment is another example of that. Like Mr. Bungle, Dark Tranquillity had a streaming concert where they played their new album in its entirety on the day after it was released. I made it a point to listen to the album one time before seeing the show. The songs that I liked upon the first listen were great during their live performance. The song “Identical to None” IMMEDIATELY stood out to me and quickly became one of my favorite songs from Dark Tranquillity’s entire 30 year career.

“The Dark Unbroken,” “Empires Lost to Time,” and “Phantom Days” are some of my other favorite songs from Moment.

Human Impact is considered to be an “American Noise Rock supergroup.” I don’t quite know what “American Noise Rock” is, but I know that I like Human Impact’s self-titled debut album. They are on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records label and I’m pretty sure that I discovered them through a YouTube suggestion. The video that I saw on YouTube was for their song “Cause.” I really liked that song and searched for more. I liked that and got a copy of their album. Just like Amity Affliction, I was thrilled to find another new good band that I liked to listen to.

If you’re inclined to listen to songs from this album to check them out, in addition to “Cause,” I like “E605,” “Respirator,” and “Protestor.”

If you’re surprised to see Body Count in my Top 10 Albums of the Year list, so am I. I’ve listened to them on and off since their 1990 debut. Over the past few years, I’ve really liked some of their newer songs, but I didn’t go out of my way to get any of their albums. Then I heard the title track from their 2020 album, Carnivore. I liked the song. I also noticed that they were going to be playing in my area not long after that. In order to get myself up to speed on their newer stuff, I bought a few albums, including Carnivore. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened and the show was canceled. But, that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the album. It’s a really good, aggressive, hardcore style album.

My favorite tracks from Carnivore include the already mentioned title track, “Another Level,” “Thee Critical Beatdown,” and the updated version of “Colors.”

A found out about Gangstagrass just a few years ago. They’re a bluegrass/hip hop band. Yeah, you read that correctly. I saw them in concert shortly after first discovering them and I had a great time. I got a bunch of their albums and became familiar with some of their back catalog. 2020’s No Time for Enemies is their 6th studio album and the first one that they’ve released since I’ve known of them. It’s the 10th Best Album of 2020, as far as I’m concerned. I’m also pretty sure that some of their other releases could have made my lists if I had known about them earlier.

Some of the songs that I like the most from No Time for Enemies include “Freedom,” “Do Better,” and especially “Nickel and Dime Blues.”

As I stated at the beginning of this post, there were a lot of good albums in 2020. Here is a listing of other albums that came out during the year (in alphabetical order by artist):

– The Allman Betts Band – Bless Your Heart. This is a good album, but it just missed the list.
– Blackfield – For the Music. Blackfield without Steven Wilson as a main song writer is just boring.
– Corey Taylor – CMFT. This record has some good stuff on it, but it’s a bit disjointed with different styles of songs on it.
– Dion – Blues with Friends. In my opinion, this is the best album that Dion has put out since 1989’s Yo Frankie.
– Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters. A good album with some good songs.
– Hatebreed – Weight of the False Self. This was a Hatebreed album. I got what I expected.
– Heaven Shall Burn –Of Truth and Sacrifice. This was a double album that had a few good songs, but of the 19 tracks on the album, the good ones were lost in the shuffle.
– Lamb of God – Lamb of God. There’s some good stuff on here and in a year that was stacked with GREAT albums, it may have made the Top 10.
– Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks – Dream Curse. Lonesome Wyatt puts out good stuff, but I think he’s better when he’s with Those Poor Bastards.
– Mina Caputo – The Mones. There are some wonderfully poetic songs on here.
– Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life. This is first Mushroomhead album without their founder Jeffrey Nothing, who left in 2018. His replacement sounds a lot like him, but it’s not the same.
– Spy Machines – Spy Machines. This is a jam group consisting of Clutch’s JP Gaster and some people that Clutch has toured with. It’s a fun album, but I don’t see myself listening to it often.
– Tetema – necroscape. This is one of those “I don’t know what I’m listening to” Mike Patton projects.
– Trivium – What the Dead Men Say. See Lamb of God.
– White Stones – Kuarahy. White Stones was founded by Opeth’s bass player, Martin Mendez. Their debut album sounds like Opeth demo tapes and songs that didn’t make the cut with Opeth.
– William Elliot Whitmore – I’m With You. A solid folk/blues album.

I’ve enjoyed listening to all of these albums this year, and all of them did get a full listen.
I know that (2009 Album of the Year winner) Moonspell and Steven Wilson (2007 winner, as part of Porcupine Tree) have new albums coming out in 2021. I’m not sure about other acts. I know some bands are holding off on releasing new material until that they can properly tour for it. I’m hoping to have a list half as good as this one when I start compiling my 2021 Top 10 about a year from now.

A note about eligibility for my 2020 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States release date in 2020.
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist).
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material.

In Your Mind I’m Fed With Distrust.

I’ve spent the majority of 2020 inside. Not just inside my house, but inside my head, as I explained a bit last month. It’s been a weird year for all of us. I don’t need to get into that, and to be honest, I’m trying to save some of it for next month’s 2020 recap entry. But, as I continue to tell people that I’m doing fine, all it takes one is one thing to trigger a feeling, memory, or emotion that makes me question all of it.

A day or so ago, I saw a video online of someone acting out her relationship with her mother. It was a DEEP video. It was my trigger. I went from being content to “having lot of feels,” as the kids say. I am not capable of getting too deep inside my own thoughts enough to convey what exactly that video did to my psyche. Or at least, I’m not able to properly convey it.

As much as I’m capable of saying in this forum, there’s still A LOT that I’m not able to say. Maybe one day I will be able to, but today is not that time.

One of the things that I said immediately after seeing the video was that I was starting to “question everything.” I started to wonder if I’ve been honest with myself over the past few months. I’ve told people that I’m really doing emotionally and mentally well during the Pandemic. I mean, I think I am, but what if I’m not okay and I’ve just convinced myself that I am? Yes, a video about someone’s toxic relationship with her mother made my mind go there. It hit very close to home, literally and figuratively.

I have a lot of defense mechanisms. I make a lot of jokes at my own expense. I’ve told people that since I’m not doing much of any socializing during the Pandemic, my social anxiety levels have never been better. And, there’s definitely a level of truth to that. But, I’m now questioning how true that is and if I’m just making it up to convince myself that it’s true. This goes back to the self doubt that I often talk about in these entries. A LOT of that self doubt comes from things that were said to me by my parents.

I don’t want to use this entry to go down a dark path. I know it could easily go there. I’m NOT in a bad place. Well, I think I’m not. See, it’s happening. I’m not just putting the doubtful lines in here as humorous diversions. It’s really how I think. Am I fine now? Am I not?

My routines keep me sane throughout the days. I need the order. I’ve continued to find comfort in the things that I discussed in last month’s entry. But, am I looking for the comfort there to compensate for other things that are lacking? Isn’t that something that we all do? Am I different? There’s always more questions for me than answers.

Part of the reason that I’ve said that I’m doing well is that I’ve been isolated for so much of my life. So basically, I’ve been practicing for Pandemic Life.
I was not allowed to go out and do things with my friends as much as others were. When I was allowed, I would always have to check in multiple times, or else. Those patterns of behaviors and guidelines definitely set me on the path to social anxieties. I got to the point where I started to not ask to do things because the disappointment of missing out was easier to deal with than the denial of permission.

Like I said last month, I spent days and weeks in my house watching TV. It was there for more. I did that in my bedroom, where I’m typing this now. It’s my sanctuary. It’s where I’m safe. It’s where I was sent as a punishment when I was a child. I’ve become a prisoner in my own Stockholm Syndrome. Yet, I like it here… I think.

The restrictions, guidelines, and mandates that I spoke of earlier didn’t go away as I got to “legal age.” They continued. Even after I was no longer required to check in with anyone, I still feel the anticipation of problems if I don’t do it. And it’s been over a decade since I’ve needed to check. How does this tie-in with me spending time in my room now as an adult during a Pandemic?

I’m sitting here trying to figure that out. I’ve spent some time since the last paragraph ended attempting to put my thoughts together without going back and deleting much of this entry. Some of my friends have recently told me that they’re actually surprised when I say that I’m such an introvert and how uncomfortable I am in social settings. That gets me thinking if I’m really better at being in public than I think I am or I’m just good at faking it.

I really didn’t answer the question there, did I? I know this entry is jumbled. I know there’s somewhat of a vague common theme here, but it’s not going where it could. That’s probably because where it could go is a lot deeper inside of me than I realized it was when I started typing this.

About 20 minutes has passed since I ended the last paragraph. I’ve started browsing some of my older entries. I’ve seen some common themes. I’ve seen some common doubts. I’ve seen some common issues. I’ve seen some common pauses in my ability to express.

I want to believe that I’m doing okay right now. Even though, I’m a firm believer in “it’s okay to not be okay.” So, if I’m okay with not being okay, am I okay? Yeah, I had to ask that. Right now, I’m okay with not knowing the answer to that question or any others that I’ve asked here. And I’ll be okay revisiting these concepts and questions when the time is right. And it’ll only be right when it’s the right time.

But, until then, I’m going to retreat back to me mental and emotional safe space and continue with my current routines. Because, until I doubt them enough, it’s still comfortable there. And that’s where I need to be right now.

I Can’t Say That I am Free As Long As They Return.

Enjoyment. Happiness. Satisfaction. Contentment.
Based on what I’ve said in many of my recent entries, I should be experiencing many of those feelings. I’ve talked about how well things are going for me. I’ve mentioned that I’m in a good place. I have significantly less concerns about my life than I’m used to having. Yet, I’m not feeling those things. Instead, I’m dealing with doubt, fear, anxiety, and maybe complacency.

In another entry from a while ago, I talked about living in a “world of ‘can’t.'” That means that I’ve always been told about what I can’t do. I’ve always had a voice in my head telling me what I can’t do. Very often, the voices telling me that were my parents, teachers, and other authority figures in my life. And I’m not talking about them advising not to play in traffic or something like that. I’m talking about convincing me that things that I wanted to do were not worth the time or that I couldn’t accomplish them. But, now, at 44 years old, the voice in my head telling me that I can’t do things is my own.

How do I convince that voice that it’s wrong? How do I change how my mind is programmed and move from “can’t” to “can” and then to “done?” There’s been so many times in my life when I’ve felt that it’s just easier to NOT do something than to try it and not succeed. Sometimes I’ll plan something and the anxiety of whatever it is gets me very worked up. Then I’ll cancel that plan and I won’t feel dread or sorrow that it’s not happening, I’ll feel relieved that my anxiety is gone.

In January of this year, I had my annual physical. It was suggested by my doctor that I lose weight. Even before that appointment, I had hoped to lose 30 pounds. I had planned to use the various 5k races that I usually run throughout the year as my motivation. I was going to train as much as possible. I was going to eat better. I was going to do as much as I possibly could to get as close to the shape that I was in 5 years ago when I was setting records for myself in almost every race that I ran. My personal record is from that year and I’ve only come close to it one time since.

In addition to the races that I usually sign up for, I had planned to do one or two more than usual. Then COVID-19 happened. All of the races were canceled. Gyms closed. My motivation went with it. My weight went up. I don’t question why I gained more weight. I may joke about it, but I know exactly why. My efforts to lose the weight haven’t worked. Although, to be completely honest, my efforts have been pretty minimal. I know that I have the tools to do it. I know what I have to do. I just haven’t been able to do it. I’ve attempted to do longer in-house workout routines, but I’m more likely to stop doing them halfway through than I am to complete them. I’ll plan a 2 mile run around my town, but after struggling to get the first half mile done, I’ll gladly quit when I get to one mile. Why am I doing that? Am I more satisfied by not struggling to complete a goal than I am to go through with the struggle? It’s the voice in my head that tells me that I can’t do it.

To be fair, over the past few weeks, I have made significant changes to my food consumption. I am making an effort there. And, I’m doing well with it. I’ve lost (at least) 5 pounds. And while I’ve done well here, I KNOW how easy it is for me to have one doubt planted in my mind (by my own history) and immediately start buying potato chips and other unhealthy snacks again.

I’ve told people that I lack the energy and stamina to do a full workout. I’ve also said that if I did more full workouts, I would probably have more energy and stamina. I don’t sleep well. A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain (at least according to some article that I recently saw). If I slept better, would I have the energy to get more done? If I got more done, would I have more energy? Is it bad that I had planned to do some exercise 30 minutes ago, but starting typing this instead?

There’s other things in my life that I need to work on besides just my weight. But, just like everything that I’ve said in this entry, there’s so much doubt in my mind about my ability to get them done. Even if I start them, I don’t know if I can finish them. My life has so many unfinished projects. Well, now I know a topic for another entry, but I digress.

2020 has halted much of the world. I’ve settled into a lot of routines that are enjoyable, but are they all good for me? The majority of them have me sitting around. Most of them include watching TV or listening to an album. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but I think that I need to maybe make them more or a reward for myself than the actual goal.

If I know that I have do these other things, why don’t I just do them? That’s a great question that I think some of you are probably asking. I ask myself that too. Just getting up and doing something isn’t as easy as it sounds like it is or should be. I don’t think I’m in the midst of a depressive episode that is keeping me from doing things. I don’t know why the voice in my head keeps telling me that I can’t. I need to free myself from the voice that tells me no, or at least shut it up for a while. Until I do that, I don’t know how much I can change.

An Archaic Way of Thinking, So Monstrous and Absurd.

If I publish an entry that is blatantly political, I know that a vast majority of my few regular readers will just skip over the post. This entry is going to deal with some issues that are in the news and are linked to politics. I’m going to do my best to stay away from directly referencing political aspects of it, while attempting to make sense of things that, to me, don’t make sense. I’m also going to try to explain how I got to the point that I’m at with my own beliefs.

I’m a middle-aged white male. That means that there’s a lot of things that I don’t need to worry about. I don’t need to be concerned with whether or not I have access to birth control (pills, abortion, etc). I don’t need to worry about not being paid equally because of who I am. I don’t need to worry about being profiled and harassed based on the color of my skin. I am someone that has White Privilege.

White Privilege does not mean that I don’t need to work hard to advance in life. And it doesn’t mean that non-whites get by with hand-outs. It just means that I have a head start, based on who I am. White Privilege doesn’t mean that I won’t get pulled over for speeding. It means that I’m more likely to not be harassed for doing it. But, this post is not about my White Privilege.

Throughout the 40+ years that I’ve been alive, I’ve been picked on, made fun of, insulted, harassed, and even beaten up. I deserved none of that, but often I thought that I must have deserved it. Sometimes I felt scared to go to school. I didn’t want to tell my parents or my teachers about what was happening to me because I was afraid of retaliation. I never acted out or really fought back, because I was always afraid of consequences.

How many times have we heard stories about a high school kid that shoots his classmates? How many times have we heard stories about a high school kid that dies by suicide? In many cases, both of those horrible actions are the result of someone being treated like I was in school.

Beaten down. Figuratively, literally, emotionally, mentally. How much can one person take before there’s a breaking point? Imagine yourself in my shoes in high school. It wasn’t pleasant for me.

I was one person. I was afraid. I felt that I was nothing. I didn’t know what to do. I had a few bad experiences with some teachers and counselors. They made me feel that I was at fault. I was told that I was lazy. I was told that I didn’t work hard enough. They failed to address what my real problems were. They didn’t do anything to solve or even help me get past those problems and they certainly never held anyone accountable for what was done to me, even if they witnessed it.

Now imagine that an entire community of people that go through the same thing. Imagine that community is treated like they don’t belong with “the rest of us.” Imagine that people in that community are constantly threatened and harassed by the people in charge. Imagine that people that are supposed to protect that community are seen as threats instead of help. Imagine that when something goes wrong for that community that nobody assists them, and instead they’re constantly told that they’re at fault and deserve what’s happened to them.

What I vaguely described in the paragraph above is how I see issues facing the Black Community in the United States. It’s also why I empathize with them. I’ve been the person that’s felt how they feel. Just so it’s clear, I am by no means trying to make the comparison of my personal struggles with Blacks in America. I would diminishing them if I did that. I’m just trying to say that I understand.

In the past few months, we’ve seen more and more stories about Black Americans being shot, beaten, and harassed by authority figures. We’ve seen others in positions of power not step up to help, and in many cases, criticize them for being upset about what’s happened to them, and how they’re handling it.

Like the scenarios that I described earlier about the high school kids that snap and do somethings drastic, that’s where the Black Community in America is now. They’re that beaten down person that has had enough and is lashing out.

When your pleas for help are constantly ignored, you lash out. When you’ve always been treated like you don’t matter, you may not know what to do. When you have no way to improve your situation because there isn’t a system in place to help you, what can do you do?

I already know how some people will react to this post. I know how some people may criticize me for making the comparison that I’ve made. I know how some people believe that one side of the political aisle has done more damage (or more to help) to blacks than the other. To be honest, none of that really matters right now. To me, the issue is simple. The issue that we can say that all people have the same chances and opportunities in the United States, but that’s not true. It’s never been true. White males have always had an advantage and have made the rules. Those rules don’t benefit everyone else as much as they benefit themselves.

I’m doing my best to not turn this into an us vs. them post. I don’t want to get into politics here, but I know that what I’m going to say in the next few sentences is going to spark a certain response from some.

There was a time that I wouldn’t say “Black Lives Matter.” I felt it was silly to say that people are equal and then separate anyone, so I wrote someone on one of my social media pages about how we should all say “All Lives Matter.” I saw who was agreeing with me, and who wasn’t. The “Black Lives Matter” people were people whose opinions that I usually agree with and I thought I was agreeing them in my reasoning, but it looks like I didn’t get it yet.

Without publicly stating it, I did change my views on that. But it wasn’t until the George Floyd story happened when I first started publicly stating “Black Lives Matter.” I even wrote a retraction of my original post from a few years earlier. I really have no concept of time in 2020, so I don’t know exactly when I came to the realizations that I did, based on the comparisons that I spoke of in this entry, but I’m glad that I did.

I am an advocate for Mental Health Awareness. My experiences in that area over the past few years, and from what I’ve learned about myself and others, really has made me much more empathetic. I don’t want anyone to feel as bad about themselves as I have at times.

This entry isn’t as cohesive as maybe it should be. To be honest, even though this is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to, I didn’t plan to write this today. I didn’t come up with an outline for it. I actually had another entry half written before I even started this.

In my entries, I’ve often said that we need to do better. And we really do. “We” means all of us. Society continues to leave people behind. WE have to stop that. The people that believe and proudly say “All Lives Matter” need to do more to make that true. Because until Black Lives Matter, not All Lives Do.

The Scars that Bind Us.

Since I’ve started (somewhat) regularly writing entries here, I’ve often talked about how music has gotten me through so much of my troubles. I’ve spoken about the friendships that I’ve forged through concerts and message boards related to bands. This entry is going to be another one of those, and while it may repeat things that I’ve said before, it may also go a little deeper.

I’ve had a concept for this entry in my head for a long time. I pretty much knew that I would be writing it for this month’s entry. But, between the time the concept originally popped into my mind and now, a pandemic hit. I thought about putting this concept on hold and writing something else, but then I realized that what I’m going to say may be even more important now. So, please bear with me as I attempt to flesh out this idea.

Of all of the bands that I listen to that have lyrics that have impacted me the most, Katatonia and Life of Agony are at the top of the list. Their lyrics generally deal with depression, anxiety, despair, desperation, and other topics in the misery range. I’ve been listening them both since the 1990s. Their shows aren’t just concerts for me, they’re experiences.

What is the difference between just a concert and an “experience?” Well, the best way that I can sum it up is this. In 2016, I attended various days of a local music festival. Clutch played there on Friday, Life of Agony played there on Sunday. I ended up going to Radio City Music Hall on the Saturday in between to see Opeth, it was a long weekend. But anyway…
The person I was with at that festival on Friday and Sunday made a comment to me after Life of Agony’s performance. She asked me “What was that?” I didn’t quite understand her question, so I asked her to clarify. She said “I saw you watch Clutch on Friday and I saw you just now with Life of Agony, and you were totally different.” I told her that I go to see Clutch to have a good time. I go to see Life of Agony to “let it all out.” I don’t know if she understood the difference that much, but once I said that, a lot more things made sense to me about those experiences. Clutch shows have more of a “good times” and “party” vibe to them. Life of Agony, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and other other bands’ shows are emotional experiences for me.

Going back a few years earlier, at another Life of Agony show, I had a moment that I can only really describe as an epiphany for me. This particular show took just a little more than a month after the death of Robin Williams. The reason that’s significant and sticks out in my mind is because of two people that were with me at the show. The day after his death, I wrote a blog entry. At the time, it may have been the most emotional entry that I had ever done. It was raw and unlike most of my entries, published without much editing.
Just minutes after hitting “post” on that entry, I received a text from a friend. She told me that she had just read the entry and started telling me about some of her own issues with depression and self harm. She asked me if she could reach out to me when things got bad. Minutes after that, someone else sent me a message letting me know about her own issues with depression and also asked if she could reach out to me. Of course, I told both of them yes.
How do these two people and Robin Williams tie in to a random Life of Agony show? Well, it’s simple. There was a moment when I was watching the concert when I was standing between the two of them at a bar in the venue. I was the only person that realized how strange that was, because up until a few minutes before that, those two had never met. I did not tell them about how they both texted me within minutes of each other, but I did enjoy hearing them both praise me for being a good friend.

During that show, Life of Agony played one of the songs that is usually in their set list, “Weeds.” For some reason, that song never really did much for me, until that day and that moment. The first line of the song is “If tomorrow never shows, I want you all to know that I loved you all, you’re beautiful and I had myself a ball.” Because of where I was mentally and emotionally at that point, as I sang along with that line, I got choked up.
The band ended the show with what was their (and still should be) traditional closing song, “Underground.” That song is about members of society being cast out, and coming together to positively express their emotions. I remember looking at the crowd during that song and realizing that the people in the crowd are MY people. There’s a good chance that I didn’t personally know 98% of the people in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were all there for the same thing.

The people at that show, the fans of the band, we come from different backgrounds. We’ve had different life experiences. We have differing views on life. But for the 90 or so minutes that Life of Agony was on stage, NONE OF THAT mattered. And at that particular show, at that particular moment, it started to sink in.

As the Coronavirus pandemic spread through the world, concerts and other events started to get postponed or canceled one by one. There were two Life of Agony shows that I was planning to attend that have been postponed. Of course, that bothered me, since it’s an outlet for me and because I’ve made some great friends from their shows, and at this point, those friends include band members and their families as well as the crew members of the band. But, as the virus spread, I was glad to see the shows not happen. I would rather not see the shows now and have everybody be healthy than have them happen and not ever be able to see some of those people again.

Katatonia, who I once drove from New Jersey to Cleveland to see, and then from Cleveland to Montreal to see, did an online concert a few weeks ago. I knew I would enjoy that show, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. I watched it from the comfort of my bedroom. I had the lights out in the room and the concert was being streamed on my TV. From the very first note, I got chills and tears were flowing as I was happily singing along to some of the most depressing songs that I’ve ever heard. I was also texting a few people that were also watching the show and having similar experiences. And the friends that I was talking to during that time live in various parts of the country. But, that wonderfully miserable band brought us together. Some of us even joked that it was “our first Katatonia show together” since we’ve never actually attended any of their shows together.

Now, how does all of this tie together? That’s simple. Sometimes, none of our differences matter. When we’re at those shows, we’re with friends. Some of those friends are more like family to us than our actual relatives. We’re all hurting. We’re all there with our own demons and issues. We’re there to forget that for a little while. We’re there to let our aggression out. We’re there to hear every voice scream. We’re there for the words and music. We’re there to see beyond our darkness. We’re there for the message in the music. We’re there because the scars that bind us brought us there.

It’s very possible that we won’t see any shows in person for a while. But, as I said before, I’m okay with that if it means we’re all healthy. If I go to a show and someone that I expect to be there is missing, I want to know that they’re not there just because they couldn’t get to the show. I don’t want their absence to be because they’re not with us anymore.

At some point, concerts will resume. I will see you again. This will all end, we will overcome and we will be able to scream those words, together. And for that brief time, just like the words of the Allman Brothers Band, we can “leave our blues at home.”

Still My Guitar Gently Weeps

I lost my mother 10 years ago today. That sentence is even harder for me to believe than it is to type. We’re all currently going through a time in which days and weeks blend together. Yet, I remember almost everything about that day 10 years ago. And as I’m sitting here right now, a lot of it is coming back to me. I know what was said in the morning before I went to work. I remember where I stopped for breakfast and what I had to eat. I remember where I was when phone calls started happening. I remember the exact look of the local highway as I was driving back to my house. I know that I can keep going, but I think the point was made. I remember that day very clearly.

I knew that I was going to write an entry today. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, probably months. I kept going back and forth in my head about what I should say, what I could say, and I would say. It’s a very complex topic. Not just my mom’s final days, but her life, and my relationship with her. There’s things that I’ve never publicly spoken about. Was this finally the time that I was going to do that? Well, the answer is no. It’s not just that I don’t want to say some things, but I really can’t. My anxiety is through the roof as I’m typing this.

My typical blog writing process starts with me coming up with the concept, when I have one. It’s usually two or three days later that I’ll finally publish the entry. But, that’s after a lot of edits and possibly entire re-writes. I purposely didn’t do any of that with this one. I’ve always wanted it to be raw and emotional. But, as I’ve already said, my anxiety levels are shooting up. They rose any time I thought about what I would write.

Yesterday, I logged in to my site and I re-read my entry from five years ago. I realized that entry said almost every thing that I wanted to say today. And, it included something that I wrote 10 years ago. And honestly, it’s really all that I need to say.

My mother was very complex. She did what she thought was the best things for her kids. Whether they were or not is open to interpretation. But, we are who we are because of her. Not just because of her, but partially in spite of her and despite her.

So much has changed over the last 10 years. There’s been more loss. There’s been some wonderful additions too, in particular my nephew and my niece. The world is different than it was 10 years ago. I’m different than I was 10 years ago. I would like to think that I’m in a better place than I was then, and I would like to think that my mother would approve of where I am now, but would I be where I am if she was still here? I’m going to do myself a favor and not think too much about that question right now.

What is posted below is my blog post from July 8, 2010. It was originally posted on MySpace. At the time it was published, it was the most personal and “real” blog entry I had ever written. Also, at the time it was written, I was not very comfortable talking about me. I had not ever seen a therapist about myself and kept most of the my emotions to myself. And I certainly did not talk about my mother. The entry is a bit vague in detail, but it did what it needed to. As I’ve said, one day I may touch on certain subjects, but until I feel that I can (at least publicly), I believe this is the best way for me to handle it today.

Thanks for reading…

My Guitar Gently Weeps
July 8, 2010

Being that my birthday falls in the beginning of July, I see my year split into equal halves. I’ve discussed this in previous blogs. I’ve also discussed how I usually get very reflective during this time of year. I look back on the year and try to figure out where it’ss gone and then figure out where I need to go. For the past two months, I’ve been more reflective than ever. I’ve not just looked back on the last six months, but I’ve looked back on 34 years that I had with my mother.

I lost her at the end of April and it’s been a rough few months ever since. I’m not going to get into details about the circumstances, as I don’t feel the need to do so. As a generally private person, I feel there are certain things that should remain private, so that’s what I’m going to do here.

For almost 34 years, she was here with me. For almost 34 years, I had a meal waiting for me every day. For almost 34 years I knew what I was coming home to. And since the end of April, I don’t have any of that.

One of the things I’ve noticed about my memories of my mother is how perspective on them has changed. Many of the things that had negative thoughts associated with them have been pushed aside and positive thoughts are prevalent now.

My mom and I were both die-hard New York Yankees fans, but didn’t go to games. She spent a great deal of her childhood in the Bronx and went to countless games at the Old Yankee Stadium when it was in its original form. It tore her heart out when they renovated it in the 1970s. She often told me of the tears she shed while going past it on a train and seeing the walls being torn down. She was pregnant with me on April 15, 1976 when they had the grand opening of the new Yankee Stadium. The changes were so severe that she never wanted to go back. While I was always a bit upset that she didn’t want to take me to games, her stance on the ballpark helped to create my old school baseball purist mentality. For those of you asking why my dad didn’t take me to games, well, he grew up in a National League/Yankee-hating household, so it wasn’t an option.

When old enough to go to games on my own, I finally did. I managed to see some good ones too, including David Cone’s Perfect Game in 1999. Ironically, my mom was originally going to go to that game with my sister, but the heat was too much for her that day and she backed out. Her not going allowed me to go.

2008 was the last year the Yankees played in that particular building and I told her she HAD TO go to a game with me at that place. There were no options. On April 6, 2008 we finally attended a game together. It was a chilly Sunday afternoon game. We saw the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 2-0. The score of the game was not important to me, all that mattered to me was that I finally got to a game with my mother.

And a little side note, the Yankees have since moved to their new stadium, and I haven’t gone to it. I wonder where I get that from.

While we didn’t agree on many things musically, there was one artist that we always agreed on, Dion. She grew up in his neighborhood, and kind of knew him from the town. While she was more of a fan of his early doo-wop stuff, I liked his late 80s stuff and the blues albums he did over the last few years. We got to see Dion perform in 2009. I knew it was going to be a special time, but I had no idea how special it was going to be. The smile I saw on my mother’s face that night was amazing. She had been brought back to her childhood and the more simple things that go along with it. He played all of his classic songs and told stories of the neighborhood, and my mom was hooked on every word. It was seriously one of the best things I had ever seen, she was overwhelmed with joy.

Ironically, my mom often said I go to too many concerts and didn’t think I needed to see the same band over and over again. Dion was playing in our area again a day or so after the show we saw and she had thought about getting us tickets to that show as well, but unfortunately for us, it was sold out.

Obviously, there was a lot more to my mother’s life than the Yankees and Dion, but they played a huge part of her life. It’s all about her time in the Bronx, and one those two particular days I was able to bring her back to things from her childhood, and what I saw in her face those days was just magic to me.

I’ve had to learn a lot of things very quickly over the last few months. Things that I probably should have known earlier, but didn’t need to know, since she took care of them. Things like cooking and how to properly take care of our birds. I think I’m doing a decent job adjusting to that. The cooking part will take some work, but what I’ve done so far has been good.

Another thing I learned, and again, I probably should have realized this before is just how incredible my friends are.The support they’ve given me during this time has been downright amazing. They’ve greatly helped me get through my days and provided me with a great outlet when I need it. But should it surprise me? That’s what friends do. I just hope that I can be as good to them when it’s needed as they’ve been to me.