Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reflections as a New Year begins

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she felt the winter Solstice made more sense to her as a time to reflect on the past year than January first. While I concur, I also see the validity in waiting a few days before looking back. It makes sense that we actually see the days begin lengthening, however infinitesimally, before engaging in reflection.

I often reflect beyond the last year. I frequently reflect upon and remember with fondness my earliest New Years traditions. I remember when I was a young boy, Mom would allow me to stay up until midnight with her as she watched Guy Lombardo's orchestra on Television. I can still hear that rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” before Mom said. “OK, now off to bed!”

When I became older, around eleven, the Youth Group (Young Peoples) from our church would meet at the home of one of the families whose children were very numerous and active in the Youth Group. The Minister and his wife would chaperone as we played records and danced, and there was always lots of food! Then at Midnight we would wish each other a Happy New Year and prepare to head home. Once again, the Minister took an active role, stuffing as many of us as humanly possible into his car and stopping at the various houses along the way to drop us off.

Once I became a teenager and began playing drums, my “tradition” changed and I spent my New Years Eves on stage, providing the music for others to dance and celebrate to. This tradition continued as I progressed through my teenage years and into my twenties. At various times I found myself between bands during the Holidays and found New Years to be frankly quite boring if not on stage. This pattern of playing for New Years eve parties became less exciting as I entered my thirties. By that time I had become a professional touring drummer and the musicians with whom I performed all valued time with their families. Oddly, I still felt out of place when not performing, but eventually began to enjoy time at home, reading, or watching television. Now into my fifties, I still enjoy performing, but am cautious of drunk drivers when making my way home. Fortunately, with the disassembling and packing of the drumset, I am generally late enough departing that the revellers are mostly off the streets by the time I am driving home.

I also reflect, if that can be said of a time before my own, on those who have come before me. My ancestors who came to Canada in previous centuries, bringing their traditions with them and celebrating them to the best of their abilities. There were certainly no wealthy barons in my family tree, so I am certain my forebears celebrated quietly, at home or possibly at church. Perhaps a visit to the nearest neighbour by sleigh for a cup of tea and some stories.

I think too of the first arrivals on these shores; meeting the First Nations peoples whose customs would have seemed so strange to the Europeans. These Natives of Turtle Island would have gathered in their Lodges and Longhouses to partake in their Traditional Ceremonies to mark the Solstice. They would have given thanks to the Great Spirit, the Creator, for the bountiful harvest and good hunting of the previous season, for the close bond of family and Clan, for the lengthening of the days, however imperceptible. Songs, prayers, perhaps a Sweat, and the telling of stories passed down from generation to generation for millennia...

And the ancestors of the Europeans, mostly from the British Isles, who were descended from the Druids, Celts, and Picts, whose Solstice Traditions were as strange to us today as were the First Nations peoples of North America to the early Europeans. Traditions so cloaked in mystery we can only speculate on the happenings. These people would gather at Mystical, Magical places such as Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Carnac and bargain with their Deities for the return of the sun. Some speculate human sacrifice may have occurred; we can be certain beverages containing alcohol or mind altering drugs were present. There would have been music, dancing, probably for days on end. It's fun to speculate what else may have taken place there.

As I sit here on this night, writing this, I feel a duality within; the stir of the ancient Druid, intoxicated and drumming out rhythms for the dancers, (perhaps one in particular with long flowing red hair and emerald green eyes) and the peaceful quiet of a late night when the temperature outside makes silent reflection wrapped in a warm blanket most desirable.

Happy Solstice, and New Year everyone!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Passage of Time

Time flies. I've heard this expression since I was a pre-schooler, yet this last year and a half have really brought it home to me. Am I really busier than in the past, or have I just slowed down with age? I suspect both are true.

Summer 2013 is done. While the days remain sunny and relatively mild, (winter clothing is not yet a necessity) they are shorter, and the approach of winter is imminent and evident. While I find this time of year sad, it also has a certain charm that I enjoy.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to my homeland to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday with her and our family. A special thank you to my niece and cousins who conspired to hold a wonderful surprise party for her!  While I was there, I stayed with my cousin and his wife in their beautiful new home. It was with this cousin and his parents, my aunt and uncle, that I spent a lot of time as a boy and teen, and for many years he was more like an older brother than a cousin.

Being home again was a wonderful experience on so many levels, and the days I spent meeting with old friends and visiting my old haunts (except one) reminded me of the days long ago when after school, I'd walk in the fields along the forest’s edge, enjoying the late summer sun before supper and homework. While summer is my favourite season, as a schoolboy, it had a sense of aimlessness that in retrospect I realize became a bit boring by late August, and I began to anticipate the beginning of the new school year. I also looked forward to seeing classmates who lived too far for me to see them during our seemingly endless summers.

By the time I had reached my teenage years in Junior High, I was developing an interest in the opposite sex and looked forward to seeing certain girls on whom I had developed crushes. The extra activity of after-school functions allowed for socializing and a chance to form lasting friendships that in many cases still exist today.

While I was home I had a chance to finally see my sister's cottage. It was built several years ago and the chance to visit just never came when I was in the area. It is located on a large lake and has a coziness that makes it an ideal location for “getting away from it all.” If I lived closer, I'd certainly become a pain in my sister's ass! We (my sister, mother, nephew and I) took a drive down to another cottage closer to the water where Mom and my sister sat and chatted while I flew my kite and my nephew hung out. We all enjoyed that day fully before Mom and I returned to the city and had dinner together.

Another event that occurred, and one for which I am very grateful, is the reunion of an old band, Cozway. The four of us played together in the late 1970s and while it didn't seem to matter much then, we had formed a strong bond of friendship and love of the music we played. We didn't perform publicly this time; we barely played an hour but hung out together for another two hours after our little musical get together. The fact that it felt so good to be playing music together again made us all consider the possibility of getting together again next year and actually doing a couple of public performances. We'd need to all do some homework beforehand, and spend a few evenings in rehearsal before we took to the stages, but it's doable, especially given the level of musicianship we all have risen to. (although I still feel I am the weakest player of the four) The Bass Player's former girlfriend drove down from Ontario to witness this and spend some time with her family as well as her old friends. It was heart warming to see her again. I feel closer to her today than back in the '70s.

Locally, while a couple of musical doors have closed to me, another has opened, and I am really looking forward to it.

A young band who have been together only a short time have lost their drummer and have asked me to fill in until they can find a replacement; a task I am very happy to take on. They play mostly Blues, with a bit of Classic Rock thrown in for good measure, and I had recently mentioned to my spousal unit how I'd love to be playing more Blues. (I should also tell her that I would love to have several million dollars to play around with!)

We cannot stop the passage of time, and as we grow older, time seems to speed by more rapidly, so it is important to make that time count. Renew old or damaged friendships if possible, and hold your family close. All too soon we will all be memories, and it's important for the next generation to consider us good memories!

~Still Wandering...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Reason for My Absence.

It has been nine months since I have written here. Part of the reason for this is the extremely unfortunate situation with my partner's health. To protect her privacy, I will not go into detail except to say it is not life threatening, but it takes up a lot of time in doctor's offices and hospitals.

Another reason I am not writing as much is the increased workload I have found myself dealing with. A few months ago, I was feeling very frustrated about the lack of gigs I had done in 2012, and the future was not looking very bright, so I started letting people know I was available for freelance work or, providing there were no scheduling conflicts, I could even become part of another band. Then the responses came... A friend from many years ago was performing in a duo with his wife and they decided to add a drummer (me) and lead guitarist and go as a full band. Well, that has led to what is now known as Savanna Heat. We play mostly Classic Rock, R & B, Motown, etc, and for me, it is an opportunity to play some songs that have been on my bucket list for many years. (Guess I'm going to need a new bucket...)

Additionally, I got a call from a Country band called Tempted. These guys have been around for a long time; probably close to fifteen years, and although some of the original members have moved on to other things, the members both past and present, are all skilled and well-respected musicians. The Bass player and I played together in the late '90s and early 2000 and became close friends during that time. The original drummer, while still involved, is working out west as are so many from our area. His schedule is two weeks out, two weeks home. When he's away, the Lonster will play!

Bad Habits is still a factor, but on a reduced level. Three of the members of that band have formed a trio which allows them to play in smaller venues that simply cannot afford or accommodate the full five piece act plus production. They go by the name of Triad and are well worth seeing.

Even with all of that going on, I still find myself at home many of the nights I would prefer to be performing.

Finally, one of the reasons (and probably the most significant one) that I have not been writing is my battle with depression. I have been dealing with it for years, and when it strikes, it removes not only the joy from life, but the motivation to do simple things such as write, paint, or even ride my bike or go for a walk. I have referred to it as “the monster under my bed” or more simply and most frequently, “the darkness...”

When I first became aware of my foe, I had not yet named it for it was at that time unidentified. All I could tell anyone (if I chose to speak at all) was that I had no desire to participate in life; no interest in even the things I love dearly. I would sit, numbly, and stare out the window, not focusing, not registering that there was life around me. I felt nothing; had given up feeling, because when I did feel, it was so painful.... This was not physical pain such as aching bones or sore muscles, but an unbearable pressure in my soul coupled with an emptiness that can only be described as a living death.

This is not to say it cannot manifest in physical form; it can and it does!

Clinical depression is not just a sadness or unhappiness. It's not simply dwelling on the less pleasant things in life. It's not something one can “just snap out of” or “get over.” It is a disease, and as much as those of us who suffer with it hate to admit, a form of mental illness. As far as I can tell, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, which, like all chemical actions and reactions, can be triggered or eased by other chemicals in the brain. These other chemicals can come in the form of pharmaceuticals, or be generated naturally, by diet, exercise, or becoming immersed in activities that lead to pleasant feelings.

This is not to say that depression is “cured” as easily as taking an art class or a walk in the country. On the contrary, these activities are often very difficult to get involved in for a sufferer of depression. The effort needed is often too much. This can be a veiled blessing, because the effort needed to take one's own life is also too great, and many of us would do just that to avoid the suffering.

In my own experience, my illness can present itself in the form of a deep, despairing loneliness, far greater than anything anyone can imagine. Most unsettling, is that this loneliness is not the result of being alone. In fact, it can occur when in large groups of people. I have experienced it in a crowded shopping mall while Christmas shopping. I have been onstage performing for a full house of cheering people, and as I drive home, the despair is so deep, I feel as if the show had never happened. This often leads to feelings of isolation.

This isolation is not entirely a one way street. There have been times I have avoided people, including dear friends, because I did not want to expose them to my mood. I remember once seeing a friend in the parking lot of a supermarket and avoided her. I actually thought, “Oh no, I don't want to talk to *****, she's too cheerful!” Yet, when I have alienated my friends, I become bitter that they no longer contact me. Yes, I can tell you all about irony as well.

Depression is fortunately becoming more recognized. I have recently heard it referred to as “the common cold of the 21st Century,” but I think that is understating it too much. If you have lived through an episode of depression, you'll know it's far worse than any cold. Still, the recognition of its existence and its results means an increase in understanding among the general populace, and perhaps a new attitude toward it.

I have several friends who suffer depression, and while I am not a doctor of any sort, I believe its prevalence among artists is greater than among the rest of the population. I also have noticed that artists tend to release it through their art; indeed use it to create their art, and the rest of society, having no such outlet, tend to use pharmaceuticals more and become caught in the endless cycle of dependence and addiction.

Recent research has indicated that adult victims of depression are likely to have been victims of ADD or ADHD in their early years. For people my age, it is often a retroactive discovery due to the fact that in the 1960s and '70s, many schools were unprepared to understand or diagnose these symptoms. Looking back on it, I was a classic case of ADHD, but no one had even heard of it where and when I went to school. I see this as a good thing in retrospect since I was not medicated into being “normal.” Too many of today's youth are subjected to chemical drugs which, while keeping them sedated and easier for the teachers to deal with, also stifle their creativity, thus perpetuating the continuity of banal subservience that has kept our race from advancing past a worker/soldier mentality. If we are to learn true Compassion and escape the cycle of wars and oppression that has engulfed us for millennia. we NEED creative thinkers to break that mould.

You may have noticed I mention pharmaceuticals only in passing, without anecdotal follow-up. That is because my doctor and I really prefer the natural approach. I find Meditation (meditate, don't medicate) to be particularly helpful. I won't prescribe preferences because what works for me may not work for you. I can certainly share my experiences if asked, but I will not guarantee results. There are many good books, CDs and DVDs available for those who are interested, and some places have Meditation Teachers, often available through Yoga Studios. Even YouTube has many excellent videos to watch, but be careful in what you choose to accept, because there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Whatever you choose to aid in your recovery, I wish you well. And, if you are attempting to understand those of us who suffer from this dreadful existence, please understand that kindness is often the best solution...

~Still Wandering...