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.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Quiet Christmas Eve

Nothing festive this year.  No lights, no decorations, just a fake tree with nothing on it.  My parents are gone, my uncle lives in Chicago and my brother I will see tomorrow for a not very Christmasy meal of Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant in a nearby town.  We will probably exchange presents at my brother's house and then I will head home for another quiet night.  Tonight I will wrap presents for my brother and make up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  The days of childhood and youth are long gone when Christmas had a special meaning, not anything religious, but just a time to come together as a family and eat a good home made meal.

I feel very different from my former selves.  One of the main changes in the last few years is that now I really do live in the present moment and there's a lot of peace in that kind of living.  My life is mostly solitary and yet I like my company.  I live simply without a lot of stress.  Depression and discontent do come but they are not the foundations of my life.  If anything they help to point out what I need to work on.  I used to rely on fantasy in my imagination and through films, books and music.  No more.  I still watch films, but more often than not it will be a documentary.  I still read books, but more often than not it will be nonfiction.  I still listen to music, but now it is so I can stretch and do some dance moves.  And then there are the songs that I create and sing for myself.  They are an emotional outlet for me.

My friend Sam said to me a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that I had been working on some songs that what I needed was a band.  At first I dismissed the idea, but then it returned to me and I began thinking about it.  I asked the I Ching a few questions about it and the response was that it was a very good idea, but that I wasn't ready yet and had to prepare and practice first and just think about it.  So I've been thinking about it the last couple of days.  I live in a college town, so there are musicians around here.  Reaching out to any of them would be a big deal for me.  I really believe in the last 25 years that I have written some good songs and that my voice, with some practice, could be good enough if I had the courage to sing in front of people.  That's a big if for a reclusive person.

I most definitely am a singer/songwriter, but I am not much of a musician and that's why, if I chose to  embrace performing, I would need a band.  To be around a guitarist would be such a blessing to me.  I have spent very little time around any skilled musician, which is probably why I don't play well.  I think dedicated musicians are brilliant and inspiring.  In choosing to remain isolated I have cut myself off from experiencing and learning from musicians.  I have cut myself off from so much.  And I think I'm afraid of the intimacy of working with others and yet I also think that is just what I need.  I feel very humble but I can't let that form into insecurity, the kind of insecurity that would block me from reaching out.  I have to realize that I do have something to offer musicians both in my songs and in my voice and in myself.

So I'm working on committing to practicing my songs.  I realized quickly that I needed two things - a small tascam digital recorder to record my new song ideas and a much better amplifier.  I already have a digital recorder that I use as my audio journal but the sound quality is not good enough.  The reason I need the tascam recorder is that I make up my lyrics while playing chords on the guitar, but often I don't record my ideas on my portastudio and then I will sometimes take the lyrics and put different chords to them in effect making a different song.  So I lose a lot in the process because I forget what I came up with in the first place.  As for the amplifier, the one I have is just a $50 amp and it puts out poor sound quality, plus I have a cheap dynamic microphone and that just makes it worse.

I've ordered a $299 Fender amplifier, neither super cheap nor very expensive, good enough for my music room or maybe a coffee house (if I get that far).  I need to hear myself and I think this amp will do the trick for me and help me to train my voice better.  Sometimes I get loud, but then I'm plugged into my portastudio with the headphones on and that's a very different experience, maybe a little too safe and insular.  I need to not be afraid to get loud and I also need to learn about the dynamics of singing through a microphone and amplifier.

I've got the whole Winter to work on this and I'm grateful for this project.  It comes at a good time for me because I've been wandering aimlessly since I came out of the Jesus delusion.  Will I have the courage to go looking for local musicians in the Spring?  I just don't know yet.  But strengthening my skills is not a waste of time.  I knew years ago in my 30s that I felt a deep connection to singing and songwriting.  Back then I performed for myself and it felt strong and right, even though I was still sick from having been in an abusive/love addicted relationship.  When I went into acute psychosis I lost the ability to sing and write songs and that was hard, but I didn't give up.  I returned to singing and songwriting about ten years ago.

I've only got as far as posting some of my songs on the internet, but never have I worked with others as a songwriter/singer.  I have a strong feeling that I will have to collaborate if I do find a few musicians willing to work with me.  I don't know about song structure, about adding instruments, about basic recording techniques, about setting up mics or about performing.  I don't know a lot.  And except for a couple of times with my ex boyfriend, I have not sung with others and know little about harmonizing.  But maybe I'll be lucky enough to connect with someone who not only plays, but sings.  That would be truly great.

Working with others, that's still a tough thing for me.  I know me and I know that I would be very open about my life and my life experiences with those I might work with.  I am 54 years old and I still suffer from mental illness, but I do have some talent and I have been stable for a couple of years now.  And once committed to a group I believe I have the capacity to work hard and give it a chance. So 2017 is just around the corner.  Maybe this year I will connect with others who share my interest in making music.
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