New Site!

Hey, for all of you who only follow me here on wordpress.com, I want to let you know Lights in the Darkness now has its own website, lightsinthedarkness.net! Everything from this site is imported over there, and that is where I will be writing from now on. I also have a “Donate” option up there as well, so you can chip in a little bit and help me keep writing. So everybody head over there now and follow lightsinthedarkness.net!

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I’m Still Here!

I have not posted anything here since last Tuesday, but I have a very good reason why: I am a college student again! My first night of classes began last Wednesday, and I also have one class online. These are summer classes, so everything is going to be pretty compact and intense. I spent all day today reading, typing up a paper, and making copies of pages from a workbook. Welcome back, my friend.

SUMMMER-SCHOOLThat last line may be a joke, but I had honestly forgotten about the intensity of college courses in general, and I had definitely forgotten how compressed a summer class can be. As a result, I have been more than a little overwhelmed just trying to set up some sort of routine to deal with everything. I believe the newness and initial shock will wear off, however, and I will find my groove eventually. In the meantime, my posts here may be sporadic, which is sort of a shame because I’m getting some great material to write about from these classes.

So there you have it. Just my quick little check-in to say I’m still here, I haven’t stopped blogging, and I will have some really good stuff coming up in the future. Of course, the future maybe two years from now, but… 🙂

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

We Lost The Story

bass heroesI have a book beneath my bathroom sink titled Bass Heroes. It is compiled of interviews from the 1970s and 1980s with famous bass players pulled from the pages of Guitar Player magazine. The roster of interviewees is a veritable Who’s Who of elite bass players, including Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, and Paul McCartney. I bought the book in Nashville several years ago in a music store. It was long enough ago I couldn’t even tell you the name of the store.

Why is this book beneath my bathroom sink, you may ask? Mainly for ease of accessibility. If I could compile a Bible of bass playing, this book would be it for me. It has been an invaluable resource, and even though it was published over 20 years ago and some of the players featured in it are now deceased, I still pull it out and read it from time to time. Its edges have become frayed, and I’m actually quite shocked it’s held together this long, but I imagine I will hold onto it until it crumbles into dust one day.

There are definitely tons of tips and discussions on bass playing techniques and instruments and amplification and even a touch of music theory here and there, but that is not what keeps me coming back to this book over and over again. What compels me to keep reading it is the stories it contains. Clarke struck out from Philadelphia for New York in the early 1970s with basically nothing to his name but his electric bass and some clothes. Wyman once tried to reach out to high-five a fan and fell off the stage, colliding with the concrete floor seven feet below. Noted blues bassist Jerry Jemmott, who played several sessions with the late B. B. King, nearly lost his ability to play at all after an automobile accident in 1972 left him severely injured.

To me, a person’s story is just as (if not more) important than what they have accomplished or how they managed to accomplish it. The story makes up the fiber of their being. How did they get from Point A to Point B? How did that journey influence them? What was their point of decision, the path that changed their trajectory? What was it that elevated them from a normal to an extraordinary life? These are the factors which drive ingenuity and encourage individual thought, and they are also the sparks that leap from art to encourage others to strike out on their own journeys.

Unfortunately, this type of book would be difficult to compile today. The majority of guitar and bass publications I pick up now are made up of at least 75 percent product reviews, which really sucks for a guy like me on a limited budget. More than that, though, the stories have been pushed to the side. Even if an artist is chosen for a feature interview, the majority of it focuses on either that artist’s latest project or the instruments and equipment they used to record it. My heart sinks nearly every time I pick up one of these publications these days. I can actually find better interviews free on the internet.

The point I’m getting at is this: Our stories are vitally important, not just to us, but to others who may get to hear them later on. When we lose our stories, we lose our emotional connections with each other. When we become more about gear and machinery and impersonal objects, we lose our ability to inspire. The newest effects pedal on the market never inspired me to get better at my instrument, but hearing Sheehan talk about learning all of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar parts on the bass makes my wheels start turning. Could I do that? And, if I couldn’t, what would my story be?

The human experience is what makes us what we are, not the tools of the trade. It would be like asking what kind of evel2hammer John Henry used or what brand of gasoline Evel Knievel filled up his motorcycles with. Toys are cool, but stories stand the test of time.

What’s yours?

The Dark Side

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Martin Niemöller

Even before I worked as a newspaper report several years ago, I had a real dislike of people who did not at least make an attempt to follow the news. The most common excuse I heard for this was “The news is so depressing.” There’s really no arguing with that statement; the news is depressing. Countries are at war with one another, people are shooting each other, companies are scamming their customers, politicians are caught stealing and lying… Yeah, watching the nightly news is not usually a yuckfest.

Just for a moment, though, stop and think about all the “real” things that happen in life every day. Think about the events in your own life that have had a profound impact on you. Maybe someone close to you passed away. Maybe you were involved in an accident of some sort. Maybe you were abused verbally or physically by someone. Maybe someone dealt dishonestly with you.

Sounds like some pretty depressing stuff to me.

There is a great emphasis being placed these days on “positivity” and “encouragement.” There’s nothing particularly yinyangwrong with that. This week, I’m supposed to be keeping a self-esteem journal, recording positive things that happen to me each day. This is in an effort to keep my mind off of the negative aspects of myself and my daily experiences. Avoiding negativity and depressing subject matter is often a wise course of action, most definitely.

The sum experience of “real” life, however, is not always positive or encouraging. People lose their jobs. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons lay waste to entire cities. Children are sold into modern-day slavery. Dictators carry out atrocities on their own people. And money… Good Lord, we never seem to have enough money, do we?

Why we should watch the news, though, is not so we can drown ourselves in the miseries of the world. We should watch the news because the news is part of the world we live in, and, occasionally, as with the Nazi Germany Martin Niemöller described in the opening quote of this post, that world comes knocking our front doors. For instance, the local city council may be talking about raising your taxes, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to show up at their next meeting to oppose it. On a larger scale, if you oppose abortion, for instance, and legislation is proposed to make the procedure easier to have performed, you won’t be able to write or call your elected representatives to voice your opinion on the matter.

I am the world’s worst about listening to depressing music, reading depressing literature, and watching depressing movies and television shows which just feed into my melancholy, but I don’t put watching or reading the news into the same category as those things. Listening to talk radio, yes, but not watching or reading the news. I suppose I subscribe to the philosophy of the yin and the yang when it comes to this; there’s a little darkness in the light and a little light in the darkness. That’s life … and that’s the news.

Tuneful Tuesday: Paint It … Eels!

I was going there today. I was going to talk about the Mother of All Depression Songs. The one that everyone recognizes from just the first few notes. The one that makes you want to paint the world a certain color…

I was going to write about the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.”

“No colors anymore/I want them to turn black.” This is perfect! I did read today that Mick Jagger said the song’s lyrics are about a girl’s funeral, but who cares? A post about this song practically writes itself. I just gotta plug it in and hit cruise control…

And then the Eels had to show up.

This morning, through a process I don’t quite remember, I wound up on a blog titled “Diary of a Social Phobic.” I learned from the “About” section that it is written by a Scottish woman named Gemma. Gemma is in her early 20s and suffers from social anxiety disorder and depression (You can visit her blog here.) I’ve never actually corresponded with Gemma, but she seems like a nice enough person. She had written one post dedicated entirely to songs about social anxiety (or, at least, songs she related to the experience of having social anxiety).

I had not heard of several of the songs on Gemma’s list, but I decided I would look them up on the internet. One title that particularly caught my eye was a song by the Eels (or “eels” or “EELS,” depending on where you see their name). I don’t believe I had ever heard an Eels’ song before today, but I decided to look up the one Gemma had listed – “Things the Grandchildren Should Know.”

And it knocked me flat.

Now, I’m not going to claim this is the best song you’ll ever hear. The music is pretty repetitious, and the singing leaves a little bit to be desired. Sometimes the words don’t exactly flow very well together either. What the song is saying, though, is incredible. Here are just a few lines…

I don’t leave the house much
I don’t like being around people
Makes me nervous and weird

I’m turning out just like my father
Though I swore I never would
Now I can say that I have a love for him
I never really understood

I do some stupid things
But my heart’s in the right place
And this I know

This song could very well be about me. I identified with so much of it. And it even ends on an optimistic note: So in the end I’d like to say/I’m a very thankful man. I may not be able to say that in full confidence right now, but I would definitely like to one day.

So check it out. And, thanks, Gemma.

Obsession With The Beast

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee, as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

moby dickI have attempted to read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick three times in my life. None of those times occurred while I was in school. Somehow, even as an English major in college, it was never an assignment in any class I was in. I obtained a copy of the book for myself years ago when I worked for a used college textbook warehouse. I’m not sure why I felt as if I needed to have it then. It just seemed important somehow.

I say that I have “attempted” to read Moby Dick three times in my life because I have never actually finished it. In fact, I’ve never even gotten that far into the book. It’s not an easy read, and it is very, very long. I think what keeps me coming back to this literary classic is the character of Captain Ahab. Or, at least, the idea of Captain Ahab – a man so blinded by his obsession with a gigantic sperm whale that he eventually allows the very thing he has been pursuing to literally drag him down to his death.

Over the past two years, I’ve been reading a lot about depression. I have a real passion to understand this beast. I would eventually like to help people escape from it. I sometimes feel as if it has stolen large chunks of my life from me. There are times, though, when I wonder if I really want to escape it. It has been with me so long, I am not sure how to live without it. Sometimes I’m not only not sure if I can get better, I’m not even sure if I have the desire to get better.

I have gained a ton of useful knowledge on the topic of depression from all the reading I’ve done and the counseling I’ve received. In a weird way, I actually enjoy learning about it. It helps to unravel many of the mysteries of my life I’ve never been able to figure out. I like to hear people’s stories, even though some of them do not necessarily have happy endings. I’m fascinated by how our own minds can turn on us, warping how we perceive our own realities. I’ve become this sort of morose geek, I guess.

More than once, though, in the process of writing this blog, reading all those books, and talking about depression with anyone who wanted to strike up a discussion about it, I have been confronted with the following question: Do you ever wonder if you’re getting a little too into this? The world is full of authors and actors and researchers who have been sucked into the abyss of whatever dark knowledge they were pursuing. They chased the whale, and the whale took them down into the depths of the sea.

I enjoy writing this blog. It’s therapeutic, in a way. I want it to be somewhere people can come to and say, “Oh, I’ve experienced that before!”, and know they are not alone. Eventually, though, I would like to offer the occasional story of how I’ve overcome something or some accomplishment I can celebrate or some tip I can pass on to someone else. Not that I haven’t done that here before, but those types of postings have been few and far between. I suffer from depression, and I know it. I just wonder sometimes if I am a little too comfortable in that knowledge.

Maybe the point of Moby Dick was to show that Captain Ahab literally could not live without his arch nemesis in his life. He could not exist without the pursuit of his enemy. One has to wonder if Ahab had managed to kill the whale cleanly and live if he would have been any happier. Some days, I feel as if I am chasing that same whale, and I wonder if the pursuit is worth it. And I wonder if I can live without it.

Tuneful Tuesdays: Windmills

I only have vague memories of reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote in high school. In fact, I’m not sure we were even required to read the entire book, which might explain why I only remember small excerpts of it. No matter how hazy my memory is, however, there is one thing that anyone with even a passing knowledge of the novel remembers – windmills.

In case you perhaps don’t know what I am referring to, here is the story in a nutshell: Hidalgo Alonso Quixano reads so many chivalric novels that he eventually loses his mind and begins to do all sorts of crazy things to revive chivalry and dispense justice. One of the quests he embarks upon is to take down the “giants” he sees in the fields. Those “giants,” however, turn out to be windmills, but Don Quixote (the name Quixano ascribes to himself) refuses to believe this and sets about vanquishing these enemies.

This particular aspect of the tale has been referred to countless times in all different sorts of mediums, including in the song “Windmills,” by Toad the Wet Sprocket. The song was featured on the group’s 1994 album Dulcinea, which is still one of my favorite albums of all time. It is essentially an examination of how people can spend their lives chasing unrealistic dreams or expectations, using the Don Quixote reference of “too much time raiding windmills” as a metaphor.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am in the process of attempting to shed myself of some things which are not beneficial to me. My stubborn mind, however, keeps trying to convince me I need them or, even worse, that I can somehow bend them to my will and make them work for me. I should know better, but I keep imagining myself conquering the windmills and convincing everyone that the battle was somehow worth it. Perhaps I should quote another Don Quixote-inspired song here – “The Impossible Dream (The Quest),” from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of la Mancha.

Sometimes it’s difficult as a man to walk away from a perceived challenge, no matter how insurmountable that challenge may seem or how much it costs him to face it. We want to say any price is worth it and that we fought the good fight. In reality, though, some fights just can’t be won. Or it might be more accurate to say some fights are more worth fighting than others.

Not Enough?

I turned 40 years old in April of this year, and we all know what that means: I’m at that age. When the eyesight starts to fade a little more. When the physical prowess begins to decline. When the luster of the job begins to wear off. When, theoretically, half of a man’s life is over, which means two dreaded words…

Midlife … crisis.

midlifeI actually do plan on writing about this subject a little more in-depth here in the future, but for this particular post I only introduce it to bring up a line I noticed in a book I was recently reading: Men in Midlife Crisis, by Jim Conway. I checked the book out of a local library just before Christmas, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish reading it, but what I managed to get through was quite insightful. In fact, I may have to add it to my own personal library at some point in the future.

As expected, the book contains plenty of discussion on affairs, a hallmark of many men’s midlife periods. I’m certainly not going to explore that subject here, but I was struck by something Conway wrote about it. Observe the following paragraph on attempting to end an affair:

I have helped both Christians and non-Christians through the painful disengagement process. None of these people has been willing to disengage simply because of the clear moral teaching of scripture – “You must not commit adultery.” Nor have any of these midlife men been convinced to disengage because of obligations to their families or previous commitments. It is my experience that people are only ready to disengage from an affair if the dissatisfaction level rises high enough so that the couple feels there is greater stress and less satisfaction than what they had hoped for.

A local Bible teacher who passed away earlier this year used to have a saying: God plus nothing equals everything. There’s the principle of sola scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. There’s even an old Southern Gospel song that says, “When Jesus says it’s enough, it’ll be enough.” What gets us to Jesus and draws us into scripture, though? There has to be some breaking point where we just say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. This is just not working anymore. I’m done.”

I’m not trying to say that Jesus cannot lift us out of any situation, or that scripture is somehow not sufficient to instruct us on how to live our lives correctly. God, after all, parted the Red Sea and formed man from the very dust of the Earth. In many instances of life, though, we have to come to a place where we decide the path we are on is vastly inferior to the one He wants to take us on. We have to see in real life that our decisions aren’t working and our habits are harmful to us and we need to make a change.

It almost feels blasphemous to even suggest it, but sometimes what works isn’t enough. Sometimes the strain of what is not working has to become so great that we are spurred to action. Things have to become intolerable sometimes to make us want to change. I wrote here Friday about the insanity of how I stubbornly refuse to give up certain habits that only worsen my depression. I’m beginning to notice a life principle here: Getting sick of a situation or a behavior is often the only way to begin the process of getting rid of it.

So as the new year rapidly approaches, if you’re hearing that tiny voice in your head saying, “This isn’t worth it anymore,” maybe you should give it a listen. It might be prompting you toward the answer that really is enough.

Do It Now

One of our Christmas traditions as a family each year is to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I muppet_xmas_3am not ashamed to say this tradition is not because of my children, but because of me. For a movie populated for the most part by felt-covered marionette/puppet hybrids, it stays remarkably true to the source material, which is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve actually read the book more than once, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Most of the appeal of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge lies in his redemption, and rightly so. The idea of there being hope for even the worst of souls is one everyone would like to believe. What often strikes me about Scrooge’s story, though, is how many things he loses that he can’t get back. His childhood. Scores of opportunity to help the poor in past years. His business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s future may look bright, but his past is littered with loss.

Of course, Scrooge’s greatest loss is that of his one true love, Belle. Most movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol do not include what may possibly be Scrooge’s most humiliating moment in the book, when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him a glimpse of the then-married Belle’s family on Christmas Eve. It’s that terrible moment when a person realizes everything they should have and could have said that would have made things turn out differently, but they have no power to change any of it. By the end of the story, there’s no great reconciliation between Scrooge and Belle. What’s lost is simply lost.

It’s Christmas Eve here in America, and we just finished our annual Muppet viewing for this year. I’m thinking of all the times I didn’t speak up when I could have, all the opportunities I let slip past me, the words I needed to hear that were never spoken to me. Even in what might be the most poignant redemption story of all time, there were no second chances to say what needed to be said or do what needed to done. Just like Scrooge, we can walk through the memories of the past, but we can’t touch them, speak to them, or alter them.

If there is someone in your life this Christmas that needs to know you love them, tell them right now. If there is someone you need to walk away from, walk away right now. If someone needs a sign that your care about them, show them right now. If you’re thinking of getting someone a gift, buy it right now. If there is something wrong, make it right. Once the chance is gone, it might be gone forever.

Since tomorrow is Christmas, I don’t plan on writing anything here. From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas. God bless you all.