Birthday Reflections 2016

Hello world – I am 34 years old. Yesterday was my birthday. 34, I realize, is one of those years that I hadn’t really thought much about. I wondered what I would be doing at 30, or 35, but I didn’t think to picture what I might be doing at 34. As someone who is regularly plagued with anxiety, this is a welcomed thing. I had no preconceived notions to give myself a hard time about not living up to. I find myself in better shape than birthdays past, which is good enough for me. Feeling that way is strange in its ordinariness.

With each birthday that rolls around, I think surely – surely I wont still be drinking and smoking and leaving minor (and the occasional major) disasters in my wake; only to have yet another birthday roll around where I am still “working on” quitting. Which is depressing at best. On my 31st birthday I sat on my Sacramento porch in the blazing sun, drinking warm 40’s of Steele Reserve and chain smoking, wallowing in a pity party so ruckus the cops should have been called. Except it was only raging in my head. I called no one, I didn’t answer the phone. I drifted in and out of consciousness, attempting to blot out what felt like an intolerable reality. This year on my birthday, I was only 8 days from my last drink. This year at 34, I recognized that I have now been smoking tobacco for 20 years.. Which is coincidentally about as long as I have been playing guitar. This year, I sit with a calm acceptance of my experience as it is. My definition of a “disaster” has shifted, and in consequence my feelings about the disaster-maker have changed. I have done so much intense soul searching and reading about mental health and intersectionality that it doesn’t seem logical to dissolve into an agonizing pity party, only to emerge three weeks later, broke and unimaginably hungover.

I can attribute this shift to plain ol’ ordinary time passing and growing up, a strange insistent drive to understand and not give up, a loving and forgiving community as well as the interpersonal hard knocks, and – drum roll please – my psych meds. Yes, I give my money to Big Pharma the same way I give it to Big Tobacco, to Big Booze, to Big Oil by driving and paying my power bill, to Big Textile when accepting gifted clothes on Christmas. The list is endless. Some of my money has certainly ended up in those off-shore accounts that have just been revealed in the Panama Papers. We are all complicit. But I have come to a point where I recognize that I am of no use to anyone or anything if I cannot function, and I will try any tool available to get healthy and feel like myself. It is a strange thought that I should have to do something extra to feel like myself, something “unnatural”, but I have come to understand us humans as so hopelessly mismatched to our current environment evolutionarily, that we have no choice but to tinker with ourselves and our environment to survive. One might even classify that as evolution itself. Adaptation is nothing more than trial and error, at least I can credit myself for those two. I get an A for effort.

So at 34 I am still smoking, still sweating out the booze from 9 days ago, still wrestling with my seemingly pathological inability to write people back when it is actually important that I do. The more important the communication, the greater the block.. I don’t get it yet, but it is so uncomfortable I can’t do nothing about it. Aside from these things, at 34 I have apparently relocated to Atlanta, GA for the time being, to join up with Pretend Sweethearts. I have been looking for a new band that is down to work hard, play shows, travel and tour, and seek to answer the unanswerable questions, and I didn’t give up looking until I found it. I had no idea it would bring me to the Southeast, to an incredibly talented couple with two kids. The music is totally doing it for me, otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be here. Sometimes I get the urge to coyote off into the desert to “figure things out” first, but I recognize that impulse for what it is – fear, and a desire to escape the hard work of being in the now. That impulse also assumes that there is endless time to spend. Not so.

Now I will go pull up masses of overgrown ivy from my sweet neighbor’s yard so that she can finally after many years tinker in her garden again. Then I will gratefully eat good food that I spent my hard earned money on, and then push through the discomfort of answering some of those scarily important communications. I will contemplate my 20 years of smoking and continue to manifest letting go of such a big relationship in my life. I will be grateful for my measly 9 days free of booze. I will exercise my greatest gift by playing some music. I will accept the world as is, including myself as a thread in the grand tapestry. I can live with this.

Wishing everyone a happy springtime, personal illumination, and all the trappings of a joyful life.

j

Guns and Cigarettes

Guns and Cigarettes

I grew up in a house without guns. My parents are artists, they love a beautiful aria and a good book. We were not a hunting family, we didn’t even fish. I don’t recall one single conversation about guns. Their absence was entirely normal to me, in my quiet mostly white and Asian suburban world. I was mildly intrigued by the idea, the power and masculinity they seemed to imbue, but having little interest in sports or much of an inclination towards activities that required good aim, they left my mind as breezily as they went in. It didn’t occur to me what the black and brown kids who lived on the other side of the freeway thought about guns until I was much older. I found myself drawn to a different symbol of masculine self-reliance – cigarettes.

Visiting my brother in rural Ohio, I remember going into a gun store at the end of a quaint little collection of stores selling quilts, Amish furniture, antiques and the like. My brother and I, having never really been in a store that sold guns, went inside to look around. My father followed us in. At 5’10” in his Puma sneakers, with his hands in his pockets looking around, he smiled an expression that was not a smile, and he turned around and walked out. Something about that small moment struck me – the look on his face was a knowing look, with more than a hint of resentment and disapproval. He looked culturally out of place in that store, and he probably felt that way too. My father, who loves nothing more than puttering around the house and to fall into a nap with a spy novel and a cat at his feet, who will weep at the sound of a beautiful solo tenor or a chorus of children’s voices, exuded a particular version of masculinity to me, as his child. He has many traditionally masculine traits – he loves baseball and tools, women and woodworking, he was in the army reserves and was a pretty good shot. He was even pretty rageful and scary in his drinking years. But the unarmed, emotionally minded, gentle masculinity was what was passed on to me.

It is difficult to come to terms with the privilege I now know it to be, to be able to grow up in a world with not even the faintest fear of gun violence. It’s so easy for me to take a moral high ground and make a grand statement that I will never own a gun. That sentiment reminds me of the snarky comments I often received by those who clearly disapproved of my cigarette smoking and the effect it had on others. It was an obvious cultural difference between us, and I indignantly disregarded their comments. The gun lobby and the tobacco lobby share many similar traits – the stalling and hiding of science showing the heath risks involved in their products, the appeals to libertarian freedom of choice, invoking images of rebellious individuality, and the stoking of culture wars to keep the sales flowing. For both industries, it is ultimately about profit. I grew up in a world where cigarettes weren’t smoked in front of children, but was still something adults seem to enjoy, or was at least acceptable to do. I cringe at the thought of all the butts I threw from my car window, and all the youthful eyes that watched me smoke. My depression and anxiety had me searching the ashtrays in front of restaurants as a teen, and I have given god knows how much money to the tobacco billionaires, all for a cultural and chemical coping mechanism. Clearly guns and cigarettes are different animals, but both are animals none the less.

I could go down so many rabbit holes on this topic – how the relentless sales of arms has fueled the ridiculous violence we are seeing in the world, a musing on the human propensity to take a life, white privilege and guns, the sadness around so many unnecessary deaths cause by both guns and cigarettes… I could write about how I think regulating gun sales actually helps strengthen responsible gun ownership (look at Canada, look at regulation of driving cars), and speculate on how far past that point we are. Many, many rabbit holes. But what I sit here with is just the enormity of our shared predicament, and the powerlessness I feel to affect it as a single individual. It is a hugely complex issue that is interconnected to so much else, with no quick fix or sound bite slogan. Like the reality of poverty, its causes and solutions are multifaceted, requiring effort from all angles to even get it to budge. A myopic attack of one small variable will not move it.

When did you first experience guns? What was the culture surrounding them in your world as a child? Do tell 🙂

j

Last Man Standing hits the road!!

LMS Cover

 

Hello Friends!!

I am packing the van as we type, getting ready to roll out to CO tomorrow evening. The new albums will meet me there, just in time for the first show! Which is, if you’re wondering:

Jensen Guitars
350 Main St
Longmont CO

@7pm with Jill B!

I have booked a long string of shows to Boston and back, check out the shows tab to find a show near you. This process has been quite a roller coaster ride and I have hung on for dear life. If you would like to be a part of the tour in one way or another, here are a few things you can do (in rainbow fabulousness).

*Spread the Word! Share announcements, tweet, blow up your mailing list, or otherwise flood the web-verse with info, calling all song folks to the fold. Bring your friends, bring your enemies, all are welcome! Wanna help me sell merch? Let me know!

*Keep Joe Sober! Do you have a favorite meeting, friends of Bill? I would love to join you. Send me an email with your town and meeting info, I would love to connect.

*Feed a Feral Folk Musician! I am thoroughly exhausted after the birthing of this album – take me to dinner, take me to lunch, I would love the good company as well as the calories! Calories for the van are welcome as well, the old Greenroom is valiantly passing 230,000 miles and can get hangry.. Laundry, showers, and trail mix are always welcome as well 🙂

*Get the Album Online! They will be available via CDBaby, iTunes, and all the usual sources starting very soon, I’ll keep you posted.

*Host a Songwriting or Guitar/Voice Workshop, a Song Circle, or an In-Person Private Guitar/Voice/Banjo/Songwriting Lesson! I have some free days on the way from here to there, and I would love to connect and make some music with yall, send me an email if you’re interested!

*Book Me! I would be honored to play at your birthday, speak at your school, sing at your cafe, chat on your radio station. If you see a hole in my schedule and would like me to swing by, let me know!

The thank you albums will be sent out some time this month (I will have to send them home to be re-sent to you). If you donated to my computer fund and haven’t sent me your address, please do so here. There were about 60 donators, and I only have around 25 addresses. I have put many a mile on this amazing machine since, and this tour/album wouldn’t be possible without it. I am grateful for you!

Here’s a list of some of the awesome folks I will be sharing shows with:

Jill Brzezicki
River Glen
V and the Dirty Pretty
Humble Tripe
Bethel Steele
Wormz and the Decomposers
Mandy Watts
Amber Darland
Misner and Smith

See you down the road!
Coyote Joe

 

The busted snow globe of conception

As I do my 12 step work, I break the principals down to their underlying philosophy as I understand it. “God’s will verses my will” I can understand on a conceptual level, even though the language does not work for me. I am not one who makes the claim that certain principals in the 12 steps don’t work for me or do not apply to me. I see them in action in other people’s journeys and I believe that evolution also takes its course in human creations designed to serve a purpose for survival. Anything that isn’t useful will eventually be shed, and this one hasn’t been. I can understand this axiom of God’s will verses my will as this – perception verses conception.

Although one could argue that all understanding is ultimately conceptual, taking place only in the mind, just as “seeing” an apple is a chemical signal that is registered in the brain, a signal that would not exist if the hardware of sight were compromised, I believe the difference may be the level of input one accounts for from the outside world. Or maybe it’s in the order of things. It may be the difference between one who has already built a conception of the world and looks for evidence from the outside world to support this conception with varying degrees of selectivity, and one who first looks to the outside world to assess the environment to the best of their ability, and then makes a conclusion and decides on the appropriate action to take. Sounds like the difference between seeing things as you want them to be and seeing things as they really are. There is so much Buddhist philosophy in the 12 steps and recovery principles in general, it continues to surprise me but then also makes perfect sense.

A long lived pre-fabricated conceptual snow globe of mine finally rocked itself off the table and smashed. I seriously thought I was singing Christmas carols in the snow. Although I’m not completely sure that I haven’t just jolted awake inside yet another level of my life-like snow globe scenarios (again, one could say that is all there is..), I feel jarred and exhausted enough to have a purposeless look around. And by “purposeless,” I mean uninvested in madly scrapping together a new narrative that will bring me feelings of safety and control over my environment. I am too tired and my head hurts. I’m looking at the fractured glass bubble I was under the influence of, the silly fake snow and cheesy lamp post and park bench I had been warbling next to in my scarf and top hat, and feeling very humble indeed. It goes far beyond believing I could figure out a way to drink like a normal person – some magical method that all the other alchie stoner whatever-you-got “garbage cans” before me somehow failed to find.. It even goes beyond thinking that I had more time to “figure things out.” It goes as far out (as far as I know) as thinking I was on a train that was heading to a sure-fire destination in life, when really I have been on a bike meandering on the path of least resistance in a very different direction. There are no trains with fixed tracks, dummy. Only the end of the line is for sure, and how we get there is as varied as all the people that ever have or ever will exist.

A big blank spot in my conception was that darn fourth dimension – Time.. how things change/develop/evolve over time. My coping strategies developed, even if from a real predisposition and real environmental pressures. It doesn’t matter why something develops in a moral context, it matters only to understand why so we can adapt. A reason is not the same as an excuse. A reason is an unbiased context with which to learn from, an excuse is a justification in the face of a judgement call, which, in my experience is far less useful. But I digress. My compulsions are not static – bearing the same intensity from age 12 to 31. What may have worked for me at 15 is probably no longer the best strategy for me at 31. That, at times, infuriates me to no end. Other times I feel incredibly sad. But I must be careful to get the point and keep moving, without crossing the line into wallowing. Some days I do better than others. Time is a bitch sometimes.

Cory Monteith, beloved star in Glee, was my age when he recently died of a preventable overdose. I went to very similar such programs, although I count myself lucky to have gone through the girl versions of those programs, which are generally much more forgiving. I left them with similar misinformation and a really dangerous negative complex about my addictive tendencies, which left me very vulnerable to them. Music was the thing that pulled me out of the blender for a while, like Cory’s acting. A different drug of choice, and it could have been me. I do see now that, at that point in the mid 90’s, no one could really have seen the perfect storm I was of gender dysphoria, major depression, a traumatically stressful home life, and a predisposition to impulsive behavior. The information just wasn’t yet available. In retrospect it was plain as day, but that is really nobody’s fault. And I can’t really say I would have been better off staying at home in the real crazy house. I believe the only reason I began writing songs with such fervor was because all my other coping mechanisms were forcefully taken away from me for those years. I also don’t know if I would have found such inspiration and deep understanding in psychology had I not been so immersed in it. So, a double edged sword, but at this point the value of my experience lies with those I might help. Same with Cory’s.

Time, it seems, also carries the promise of salvation from its past works. Bill Dub even said it in the Big Book – “we will be rocketed into the fourth dimension..” My recovery, like my affliction, will also not remain static. If sobriety stayed the same as it is 16 days in, no one would stay sober. I still don’t know what’s over the next rise, or the one after that, but that is just part of the bargain. Faith is trusting something that you can’t see. Although, to be fair, I see it in other people all the time. Faith is perhaps trusting something that you haven’t yourself experienced. Yet. In AA we have the bad “yet’s,” like DUIs, jail time, health issues, divorces, etc; maybe I could spend a little more time manifesting some of the good “yet’s.” Like, say, a 1 year chip, a solo album, debt relief, self sufficiency, maybe a published work.. I think I’ll start with teaching some guitar lessons. Or maybe just folding the pile of clean laundry I am sitting on right now, and slept on last night. Baby steps. At least the laundry is clean.

So I am back to the meetings, back to burying myself in books, back to dodging the bullets of the acute withdrawal phase, and hopefully back to blogging. And maybe one day songwriting. I’m not ready to call my songwriting a casualty, but perhaps it was removed from me by the powers that be, and will one day be returned when I have made myself a safe place for them to emerge from again. New endeavors will include actual meditation (not just lip service) so that I may more accurately perceive the world, and respond accordingly.

j