A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

On Music

What I remember from childhood is listening to the Beatles and dancing wild, crazy dances. The reason I was listening to the Beatles at all was primarily because of my brother who was already a dedicated listener of records and NYC radio. When my brother listened to music he would go into a rhythmic trance and to disturb him (or touch his records without permission) was considered some kind of crime. And so I watched and listened and then danced and listened some more. But I didn't sing.

My mother was the singer in the family and her favorite music was opera. I knew my mother had a good, strong, tuneful voice. I knew she could have become a trained singer though she never went in that direction. She would take me to the Metropolitan Opera House where everything was elegant and lavish and grown-up. I liked the music and some of the singing and I liked the sets but I never had the desire to sing in an operatic fashion and so I left that to my mother. On occassion I would make fun of her singing because it seemed so exaggerated and silly but mostly I kept my mouth shut. It made her happy to sing and that made me happy too. I do remember her singing to me in the backseat of the car while my father drove us home from a week-end at the beach. She sang French and English folk songs and sometimes I joined in, if only tentatively. I loved those moments and felt possessive of my mother, not wanting her to leave me. It was one of my earliest sensations of my own mortality. I knew that time marched on and that I would have to march with it. I knew I would grow up and leave my mother but for right then I was content to hold on to her and listen.

Later, in junior high school I began to listen to my own records (and my brother's when he'd let me) and I also began to sing. Mainly rock and folk rock. I remember trying to turn my friends on to Buffalo Springfield, especially a tune by Neil Young called "Expecting To Fly". A couple of my friends had good voices and they would sing together. They would ask me to join but I felt too self conscious and didn't know many lyrics unless I listened to a song and sang along with it. They knew by heart all kinds of songs that I didn't know and I felt excluded nonetheless. I also didn't think I could sing as well as they could. I did listen to a lot of music often while fantasizing about whatever boy I was attracted to at the time. The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell then Bruce Springsteen, Ricki Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, the B 52's took me into high school and my private singing got stronger only I didn't really know it. I still hadn't heard myself sing.

Very briefly, my brother and I had guitar lessons at a dreary school quite a few blocks away. Then my parents got me a piano and I practiced classical piano all through high school (but not rock,blues or jazz). They also got me a guitar. I must have been around fifteen. I played a few chords, sang a few songs sporadically but was much more involved in the classical piano (much to my mother's pleasure). So it must have been sometime in college when I began writing my own songs. I still couldn't play the guitar well but I knew enough chords to create very basic songs but I didn't think much about it. I stopped playing the piano as well. I focused on school work and my boyfriend. I still listened to music but not as much and so I sang less too.

It wasn't until after college that someone I had a short relationship with said that I had a good voice. He was a singer and actor among other things and he heard me singing along to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark album. I was surprised. I had never thought about whether I had a good voice or not, I just sang along for the pleasure of it. But here was someone with a really good voice telling me that he appreciated my singing. So that made me pause. And so I wrote a few more songs. A couple of years later after I moved away from the city I bought an 8 track cassette recorder reccommended by my brother and that's when I heard my voice. It was no revelation but it did spark my interest. I still felt shy about singing in front of others but I could hear on the recordings that if I practiced more I might be able to sing well.

This was the time when I got involved with an abusive alcoholic (though I didn't know when I met him that he was either). Like my brother, he loved music. He also played a little guitar, sang and made up his own songs. We sang Neil Young tunes and Grateful Dead tunes but he became progressively more abusive and sick with alcoholism. For a while he focused on the guitar and songwriting. I stayed in the background and tried to lay low and I was pleased that he was focusing on the music but at the same time I wanted to make my own music. So I would go off now and then and write a song and hide it. It was during the abuse when I would go to make some kind of protest song about abuse that I began to connect to making music. It was a much needed outlet but I didn't think much of it because I couldn't practice much.

After five and a half years I found a way to leave him. The 8 track recorder was no longer working and so I invested in a new one about a month after I left him and for a couple of years I started focusing on singing and songwriting. I was in a miserable state at the time but the music that was coming out of me was strong and I felt connected to something greater than myself. But still I was isolated and took no guitar lessons and didn't progress anywhere with it. I did realize that I had the ability to really sing, if I practiced and that I was, in my own way, a songwriter. The songs were like a journal to me and I could go through some of my feelings again by listening to the music. It was a record of what I had experienced and therefore was valuable to me.

Then schizophrenia hit me and I still made music for a few months, some good songs and singing but the illness overtook that side of me and banished it from my life, for a time. Well, now that time is over and I'm returning. But really I'm starting over. My voice is weak, my playing poor and my songwriting is only just emerging again. This would relate well to Hexagram 3--Difficulty At The Beginning: "Times of growth are beset with difficulties. They resemble a first birth. But these difficulties arise from the very profusion of all that is struggling to attain form. Everything is in motion: therefore if one perseveres there is a prospect of great success, in spite of the existing danger." The process of learning is the process of "struggling to attain form". The process of learning how to imitate and to create takes dedication which takes self-motivation. And so I've set up a loose schedule for daily practice and reading which I've just begun. The "existing danger" is really a lack of motivation. And I've felt that in this illness so strongly but now I feel I can move forward even through the difficulties which I've encountered and am sure to encounter again.
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