I should maybe start this off, however, with a simple statement of what it means to me to consider time, regardless of an artistic output. I am about to turn 34 years old, which means that this is the last year I’ll be closer to 30 than 40.
I don’t know what this means. It’s a blessing, really, that I am out of my 20s. Those were strange and convoluted times. Much more strange and convoluted than being 33 almost 34 and just now finishing my undergraduate degree. Considering all the things that I have done and that have happened to me since I was “college age,” finally finishing ten years later is, for real, a Herculean feat. Ten years is a hell of a long time. And my past decade-plus has been laced with unfortunate realities. I wanted, back then, to fast forward until now, for the building blocks that had already been laid to wreak havoc, the soul a cornerstone I knew I could never fully appreciate until I was older, wiser; my world somehow changed; a sanity evolved. For my sake and for those around me.
What has become clear in finally continuing my education – not in the getting of a degree, per se, but actually participating in something beyond myself – is that I am not on a path now that I might have been after an early 20s graduation. In or out of college back then, I was constantly tempted to throw in the towel when it came to thinking about a future. I had just watched my Dad die of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a completely and utterly brutal thing for anyone to witness, not least of which a 17 year old boy prone to instability, anger and sadness. That my family had his last week to huddle and say our goodbyes and I love yous means more to me now than it did at the time. I was in a hurry to get out of Dodge. And our familial bonding was as much a burden on someone who just wanted to be ten years older, putting together a life built around music, words, friends and good times. I wasn’t ready for whatever the so-called real world had in store for me. I didn’t care.
Which brings us to the present, that is, for me, a different kind of up in the air than it was at 20. Thoughts of an MFA are daunting. I have spent the last two years watching my partner go through a program in photography, and I am fairly certain that I’m just not that kind of intelligent. I can write some complete thoughts. I can dance with words around a philosophical meaning. I can cradle language until it bursts forward onto the page or through the amplifier. I can sit down, totally straight, and give five pages of myself. I can spend ten hours in a row, crafting every aspect of a song and emerge completely awake with a finished product. I can do these things well, sometimes. And even as that seems ripe for further education, I just don’t know if I can do it. At least not right now.
I am, most importantly, getting married this summer, in July, to a woman who I am complete with, who has witnessed along with me seven or so years of growth in the right direction. It is no longer a question as to who I am going to spend a life with, even as what I will be doing for a job is rather unknown. For the immediate future, it’s Allie looking for teaching jobs and grants; it’s me giving up the idea of writing my great American novel (I don’t have one in me or I’ve already published it) and focusing on what I’m better at: an adequate dialogue, a furthering of a madness on paper and tape, willing myself into relevance; it’s that formidable day job and a wait to see where we land. Massachusetts has been kind to us, but the driving force behind an eventual or inevitable move is a wait-and-see-what-happens for the next six or so months. I guess what I’m saying is that right now, I have only a hint of what I myself should be striving for outside of my own little world of art making, with which I am barely getting by. It’s a strange feeling. But I have lived blindly before and it doesn’t really frighten me. My eyes are wide open. I have a partner in stride.
What isn’t strange at all, is the joining of my life to Allie’s. And that is more than I ever thought possible. But since I know that with this major life change comes all the rest of life’s changes, I have but a short list of things I actually want to do for money. A day job at a bookstore: I’ve done that before; getting really into the world of coffee: that sounds rewarding; giving myself over to the life of a sort of house husband: being with our children as they’re born into our world would be lovely; generally struggling financially, with two freelance artists fighting the good fight, living as each day comes. People do these things, right?
Intrinsic to the whole of my life and where it’s going is the memory of my 20s. Beyond the work-a-day madness and the writing of the whatever, was a madness all its own, burgeoning since childhood but right up on me as my Dad died, as I went to school and dropped out, as years just sort of went by, until a full blown episode of that different kind of madness went to bare its teeth, and I landed in the hospital with a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder. I would be in and out of hospitals over the years in three very serious instances.
As much as that remains tiresome to write down and look at, the experience of having such a disease is much more often fascinating than it is detrimental. That isn’t to say it’s a walk in the park, far from it, but all of the things that have happened to me since that night ten years ago when I entered the ER with racing in my heart and numbness in my arms are, to look back on, sort of amazing. A few months of not taking the diagnosis seriously, a move out to the Pacific Northwest and a further drip of a twisted mind had me living on the streets of Portland with nowhere to go and wanting no help. I give my Mom the most credit for those weeks: how she dealt with her only son denying anything was wrong when everything was wrong, with answering phone calls in the middle of the night from a number she didn’t recognize just to hear me babble about what I thought was going on around me, is beyond my comprehension. Others have played similar roles, Allie included. But aside from how it has affected those close to me, I have some stories – stories that I’ve tried to tell at least in part in a plethora of written and recorded works – that you wouldn’t ever believe. And god dammit anyway, I survived. Sometimes I wonder how that’s possible.
Even so, the fact of my illness dictates that I will never work a 40 hour week, and certainly not for the next 35 or so years. That I was ever able to go to school full time is somewhat unbelievable considering the tenuous nature of my illness, though I could point to a few complete meltdowns to describe just how tricky it has been to toe the line between what is manageable and what is not. Certainly everyone has these moments. Moments thinking about giving up, thinking about quitting again. Moments in time slipping onward, regardless.
It should come as little surprise that it was and is my partner who gives me the strength to keep going. Allie was, is, and will forever be why I’m good with waking up in the morning, doing what I have to do, and sprinkling in some utter silliness to celebrate life the way I always wanted to. Within the depths of a general darkness, there is always a light somewhere if you look for it, as cliche as that sounds. Whether it’s holding hands at a stop light, or thinking back on times that should’ve killed me, there is a common thread of perseverance and faith in the unknown that has allowed my continued existence; what has shown me that life is so much more than what you do and what is done to you. A very serious mental illness can show you the beauty in everything or that nothing really matters. I can claim the truth for you here in writing that it’s both. I think that is very much the point of life at all. We tremble for the unknown. We know that we will live until we don’t, and everything in between is a bonus. I am sure that the fascination is enough. It allows me to always do things my own way. And often get away with it.
The mindset I had always had, that music is literature and literature is music, is the spine by which is propped up my entire personhood. I’ve written a lot of things. Some good. Some great. Some forgettable. Some terrible. It was the pen, the guitar, the keyboard, the microphone, and the digital audio workstation that saved my life as much as love and family. I owe debts to a lot of people, some of which will not and can never be adequately repaid. Life with endless music and words inside my head has driven me mad and comforted me in equal doses. Getting it all down on paper, recording it for whomever to hear, was always the most important part of who I am. I mean, really, it is who I am and who I am not all the same.
However well I try to see college at this point in my life, almost 34, getting married this summer, starting a family soon enough, I am hardly quite sure how to tell what a Bachelor’s degree might mean for me. A better paying dayjob, perhaps. I am at least certain that all things tried at and succeeded undoubtedly work to form a more complete mind willing to learn anything and everything. Forever in doubt, or skeptical at least, I am left with at least feeling that nothing is a waste of time. The melody of the whole as it plays in my head will hopefully forever be able to be written out or recorded. Ultimately, that is all that makes me feel like this trip through higher learning has been worth it. It’s been really great practice. I am more a writer and musician now than I was three years ago. Still, the distance that lies between what is a song or what is prose is mostly in the rhyme scheme and the timing of the phrases. For me, all paths lead to one or the other.