Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Little Drops of Rain Whisper of the Pain: On Giving Thanks

Some years, giving thanks takes effort. And this has been one of them. 

This year didn't go as planned...pretty much from the start.

Of course, I lost my job. I've already covered how painful that was.

But there was also the health scare back in February that still isn't really resolved.

There was another fucking band that died before it was even up and running...and a lost gig, to boot.

There was the domestic violence situation in my building....a situation I'd long-since suspected before I was dragged into its center.

There was the house we were about to bid on before we realized we couldn't afford.

There is the budget we now have to live on, which is forcing small but irritating sacrifices.

There was the morning I awoke to learn that there had been a shooting on the small suburban street where one of my best friends lives, and the nervous hours I spent trying to track him down.

There was the evening I spent searching Facebook for any kind of status update to indicate that my three friends in Paris were ok.

It's really hard to look over a year like that and say, "Well, on the bright side..."

But I'm going to try.


I'm thankful for my wife.

My wife and I have a mutually-held distaste for schmoopy professions of love on the Internet. That said, I'm not writing this without mentioning her. She is the Wendy O. Williams to my Lemmy Kilmister.

I'm thankful that I had that job (that I lost).

For a long time, I felt trapped in a career that I hated. But for two years, I loved my job with a passion. I enjoyed helping people for a living, and I was excited to tell people about it. I was so proud of what I did, and that's helping shape my career search in a way that wasn't possible a few years ago.

I'm thankful that I still have my health....I think.

Not receiving an official diagnosis isn't really that comforting, especially when you're at risk for a whole lot of health conditions that you don't want. 

Still, perhaps for the first time, I appreciate the line, "at least I've got my health." Because, let me tell you something: if you spend enough frightened hours getting blood drawn, wearing heart monitors and having scans done of your brain, you stop taking your health for granted.

I'm thankful that I'm back in touch with my friend, Marc.

Marc and I have tried to start a band at least four times in the past ten years. We're both way too busy, and sometimes we lose track of one another for years at a time. And even though we botched another attempt this year, I have to admit that Marc was an awesome friend to me when life got messy.

Plus, he turned me on to some great music.

I'm thankful that I stood up to a bully.

Intervening in a domestic violence episode is incredibly dangerous. I wouldn't recommend that anyone else do it; there have been times when I've been very, very afraid that I've only made things worse - no matter what the victim has since told me.

But the truth is that she called out for my help, and I answered the call. In a year when I suddenly don't have a lot to be proud of, I'm very proud of that.  

And I'm very thankful that I didn't get either of us killed.

I'm thankful that we didn't buy that house.

Raising a small child in a one bedroom condo sucks. But life would be immeasurably worse if we were carrying that mortgage right now.

I'm thankful that I'm learning to live on less.

I miss having hundreds of channels of cable TV. I miss having a gym membership. I miss having expensive beer in the fridge. I miss eating big slabs of meat for dinner.

But I now know that I don't need any of that stuff. Cable TV is a rip-off. I can swim at the public pool for free. Beer makes you fat in weird places. And your penis won't get any smaller if you eat a few vegetarian meals a week. (In fact, it makes you look even more awesome naked).

I'm thankful for my friends.

My friends are all safe and sound. No one has been killed, at home or abroad. Close calls, no doubt, but everyone is ok.

In fact, while we're talking about friends, I'm incredibly thankful for my friend, Scott

I met Scott in chemistry class, Junior year of high school. We both liked Led Zeppelin, and shared an appreciation for fine wit, naked girls and terrible haircuts. We became fast friends.

That was more than twenty-five years ago. These days, I see Scott maybe once every five years. 

And, yet, he is always somehow there when I need him. It's often with odd little moments of thoughtfulness, like remembering my daughter's birthday, or my wedding anniversary. (Or buying lunch, because I'm always the jerk who throws a card during a split check).

But then there are times when he just shows up with the eerily-timed check-in. 

This year, Scott knew something was wrong. And he stayed in front of me so that I didn't have to go through things alone. 

When my health got weird, he was an incredible resource; it turns out that I was being evaluated for two conditions that have affected his family.

When I had a sick feeling about work, he followed up with me to make sure things were ok.

And when he knew I had arrived in a bad place, he sent me a long and very heartfelt message about our friendship, and what it means to him. I return to that note when I'm feeling weak and alone, and it's always a source of strength.

I am so grateful for his friendship.


Looking back on it all, I fully own the fact that I take things for granted. I admit that I don't live with as much gratitude as I should. And I recognize the irony that I didn't start giving thanks until life threw me a couple of change-ups. I suppose that I'm thankful that I've gone through that experience, and I hope that it shifts my perspective in the future.

This entire post was a little heavy for me, and it didn't have anything to do with music. And, so, I leave you with my personal Thanksgiving anthem. 

Have a safe holiday.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Out on the Streets for A Living: On Love, Loss and KISS

I didn't cry when they told me.

I didn't cry, or yell or protest. I didn't make a scene or do any of the other things that they probably expected me to do.

I took the news like a man: the department I led was being dismantled, my position was being eliminated, and I was losing the only job I'd ever loved.

In a career that had so often been marked by anxiety and frustration, this was - by far - my most painful experience as a professional. I believed in my work, and I was more proud of it than anything that I'd ever done in my life. 

I helped people in need for a living. It brought me true happiness.

And, then, on a sunny September afternoon, the job disappeared. It was heartbreaking. It was humiliating. It was crushing, disorienting and invalidating.

But through it all, I didn't cry. 

I leaned forward, listened closely and asked the right questions. And, given the choice of going home for good that afternoon or finishing out the week, I chose to finish out the week, tie up loose ends and leave as the best professional I could be. 

A lot of people stopped by my office that week. And a lot of them cried. 

I did not cry.

They told me I was crazy to keep coming to work. They asked me how I could stand being there, knowing my job was being taken away from me. But the truth was that I loved the work, and - more importantly - I loved the people I was there to help. And I thought that they deserved better than to have me vanish with no explanation.

One of those people was Mark. Mark was a native Washingtonian in his early 50's. A talented artist with incredibly eclectic tastes, we bonded over music. I loved his stories of what it was like to be the only black kid in Anacostia listening to Alice Cooper in 1976, or how he hitchhiked to Landover, MD as a teen to see Earth Wind and Fire in concert. We'd talk about Parliament Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Judas Priest. Anything. 

But mostly we talked about KISS. 

We both loved KISS. We'd argue about which songs were on Destroyer vs Love Gun, debate the merits of Music from the Elder and laugh about how amazed we all were by the band's theatrics when we were kids.

Sometimes, when I was having a bad day at work, I'd talk to Mark, and immediately feel less isolated and weird. I'd like to think that he walked away from our conversations feeling the same way.

On my last day, Mark approached me. He was with Bianca, the beautiful art therapist who worked closely with him most days.

"She tells me today is your last day," Mark said, nodding to Bianca. I looked at Bianca, who had a sad smile on her face.

"It is," I replied, unable to hide the sorrow in my voice.

For an awkward moment, all three of us were silent. And, then, reaching behind his back, Mark produced a 9x12 canvas. On it, he'd created a mixed media interpretation of the first KISS album cover. Without saying a word, he bowed his head, and offered it to me. 

I remember every split second of that moment. My mouth going ajar, the small gasp I drew in and the inevitable burning in my eyes.

I remember my inability to find any words.
very time I took a breath to say something, I found myself holding back a choke.

"It's yours'," he said. 

I looked at Bianca, who was still smiling. Too overwhelmed to even make eye contact with Mark, I stared at the painting.

"Listen: I don't sell my art; I give it to people if I know they'll appreciate it," Mark said. "I want you to have this, because I know you always loved it."

He was right, of course. That painting was the conversation piece that had sparked our entire friendship.  

I reached out and accepted the gift. "Thank you," I whispered -- because my voice was quivering too much to speak out loud. 

"No," he said. "Thank you. Thank you." His voice became gentle. "Sometimes when people say goodbye, they forget to say thank you. So, thank you."

I didn't cry.