Monday, August 11, 2014

Walking the Black Dog.

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile but stalled out. (Y'all writers know what I mean.) Now with the news of Robin Williams's apparent suicide at the forefront, I think it's important to talk about.

I have chronic depression. I've fought with it as long as I can remember. I finally got help when I was 35, after suffering at least all my adult life. It was just my normal. I'd feel like crap for awhile, and it would go away. Then it would come back and go away again. This went on for years until one day, it didn't go away anymore.

These days, I am mostly good, but having a chronic condition, I live in the shadow of knowing it could pop up at any time, and it does. Thanks to some great counselors, an understanding husband, sympathetic friends, and better living through chemistry, I know what to do to take care of myself, and I just power on through the best I can. Some days, though, the maintenance can be a real bitch. It gets tiring. I start feeling guilty because I want to retreat. I don't want to be "on," but I feel like I'm cheating people if I don't deliver the smiling, laughing, snarking Kim they all expect.

And that's just from an everyday person's point of view. I can't imagine the pressure of being a world-class comedian and actor in the public eye. People always want you to be funny. They want you to be "on." In the entertainment business, if you're not "on," you're not getting paid. Heaven forbid you have a bad day and decline to stop for a photo or an autograph.

The thing about depression is, it LIES. It tells you you're stupid and you'll never amount to anything. It tells you you're an impostor. It tells you you don't have any friends, that people are only being nice to you because they feel sorry for you. It tells you the world would be a better place without you mucking up everyone else's existence. On a good day, it's pretty easy to ignore the lies. On a bad day . . . well, shutting up those lies can be exhausting, and maybe you start to believe them, just a little bit.

Personally, I have never seriously wanted to take my own life. For one thing, it's way too much like work; for another, I know how I've felt when friends committed suicide, and I don't want to be responsible for making anyone feel that way, ever. (I'm still royally pissed off at a friend who killed himself years ago. If there is another side, and I see him, he and I are going to have some serious words.) But I understand all too well where those feelings come from. No, it isn't logical, but neither is depression, because - remember? - it LIES.

About one in five people will experience a mental illness at some point. If you, or someone you know, might be depressed, please get help. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, just call somebody. Mental Health America is a nationwide resource network that can put you in touch with the services you need. If you're considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There are people out there who will help you. You don't have to suffer.

Till next time, hug someone you love.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Playing a piece of history.

Everybody who plays the little curvy box with four strings will, without fail, have someone open a conversation with "I've got my granddaddy's old fiddle . . ." The only thing that elicits a mental eyeroll faster is something from the pantheon of worn-out machine gun jokes. Usually what follows is something like "it's a Stradivarius" or "can you tell me how old it is?" So I was skeptical when the gentleman said to me, "I've got my grandfather's fiddle. It was built in 1918. Would you mind playing it? It's probably a little out of tune."

He told me his grandfather worked out of Rochester, NY, and did quite a bit of work for the New York Philharmonic, including maintaining a Stradivarius for one particular violinist. I peeked inside at the tag, which read "Bert Goodwin - Rochester, NY - 1918."

"So would you play it some? I don't really play and just want to hear what it sounds like." Well, all right, I don't see why not. Reckon I'll give it a try.

The violin had been restored and restrung, and yes, it was plenty out of tune, but once I got it leveled out, it stayed in tune pretty well. It had a lovely ringing tone with a nice full bottom end. (Stop snickering. You know what I mean.) The action was quite a bit lower than mine, and the bridge was curved a little differently, so I had to dodder around a little to get the feel of it. After a few minutes, it felt like an old friend. When it started to rain, I put it back in its case, even though we were under cover. I wasn't going to subject anyone's family heirloom to unnecessary elements. I sincerely thanked the gentleman for allowing me to play his antique. I mean, you don't get a chance like that every day.

Naturally, when I got home, I had to look up Bert Goodwin on the Google. I was surprised and delighted to find that his violins had sold at major auction houses, including Christie's. I wasn't able to find out much about Goodwin himself, aside from this little snippet. But hey, y'all, I held a piece of American violin history in my own hands. There aren't too many bigger thrills than that.

I doubt Mr. Goodwin ever imagined that one of his instruments would be played outdoors 96 years later at a re-creation of a 19th century baseball game. I hope he doesn't mind. Most of all, I hope I did him justice.

Till next time ---- relish those unexpected opportunities.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I love traditional music.

Traditional music has pretty much been my life for the last 20 years or so. It's as much a surprise to me as anyone, since I had grand plans to be a rock star (hahahaha). And while I still love plenty of contemporary music, it's these old songs & tunes from before electronics that really have my heart.

Traditional music is honest. It's usually built around one voice or one instrument to tell the story or convey the melody. It's naked. It's not hiding anything. It's the product of several generations sharing music and passing it down so it won't drown mercilessly in a sea of autotuned, overproduced drivel.

When you get a group of musicians together, it's spontaneous. Anything can happen, and it often does. I've seen it. I've been part of it. And let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing in the world I would trade for that experience. All the full orchestration and five-part harmony in the world can't capture what happens at a pub session or around a campfire or in someone's living room. It doesn't need elaborate stage sets or fussy costumes. It doesn't need pyrotechnics. It doesn't need anything but people who love to play, and people who love to listen.

A friend once described traditional music as an unbroken thread reaching back to the musicians of the past. I hope to keep spinning that thread until I can't spin anymore, and I hope that along the way, I might inspire someone else to take up spinning as well. I believe in the importance of keeping the music of our ancestors alive, because you can't know where you're going unless you know where you've been. 

Till next time --- honor your traditions.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The drudgery of convenience.

This morning on Facebook, I found myself in a discussion on a neighborhood page. "What new business would you most like to see in our neighborhood?" one member asked. The answers were numerous, with Trader Joe's, Panera, and Starbucks being among the most popular.

Starbucks? Really? I said, "Y'all do realize there are at least two Starbucks in the next neighborhood over, right?" Well, yes, of course, but they're just not "convenient." Seriously? There are people in this country who don't have heat or running water and you can't be arsed to go five miles down the road for a gourmet coffee? When did we start believing that we were entitled to convenience?

Now, believe me when I say I'm just as big on convenience as the next person. I like to conduct my business with a minimum of hassle, as most people do. I hate traffic and I hate crowds. But if I absolutely positively have to get something done, I will find a way to do it, even if it's bloody inconvenient. Them's the breaks, kid. Convenience is a luxury most of us have some access to, at least to some degree, although convenience levels may vary. But that's what it is - a luxury.

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages, before inventions like The Automobile, people were pretty much restricted to the services available in their respective locales. Taking a trip across town with a horse & buggy might take you all day. Not convenient for most applications, but let's say you needed to see the doctor. You'd find the time to make that trip, because it was important. Then Henry Ford came along with his contraption, and people had access to services beyond a five-mile radius.

And now? Now we can go anydamnwhere we want in a minimum amount of time, and somehow, we expect everydamnthing to be in our backyards for the sake of convenience. We in the developed world are accustomed to having goods & services nearby, and now it's just a foregone conclusion that every neighborhood will have at least two major grocery stores, five or six fast-food joints, a couple of sit-down restaurants, and yes, one or two Starbucks.

We're spoiled. We really are. But life is not "convenient." Commuting to work is not "convenient," but I do it, because I like to eat, and I like to buy a pair of cute shoes once in awhile. Practicing the fiddle and going to lessons isn't "convenient" either, but I do that because I love music and I'm devoted to learning everything I can.

My point is, if you really need or want something, you'll forgo the inconvenience of getting it. If you really want it, quit kvetching about it and just go get it. You can figure out a way if it's that important to you. Convenience is not a guarantee. Don't give up on your dreams because they're not "convenient." The good stuff rarely is.

Till next time --- what's worth the inconvenience to you?