Aug 26, 2019
Wherein we discuss the importance of finding personal stillness.
Hazlett - Suncats
Bad Flamingo - Fire
Henry Hall - Proverbial Ice
Having an emotion is a bit like having a dog. You bring him home, he runs around licking everything, and needs all that attention up front; but eventually he settles down, and finds a corner of the bed somewhere, figures out which window to look out of. I think big feelings can feel like that sometimes; I just lost my father a week ago, as I write this, and I'm lucky to feel like I'm moving into another phase of grief. I have grown to appreciate my ability to be emotional, and to process things in a way that turns out to be relatively quick and efficient, even if at the time it feels a little bit dramatic.
But the reason I mention that, is that that is one of the main skill sets we don't teach people. We don't teach people to move through their emotions; we instead ask them to turn them off. Mr. Rogers once said:
People have said "don't cry" to other people for years and years, and all it is ever meant is: I'm too uncomfortable when you show your feelings; don't cry. I'd rather have them say: "Go ahead and cry. I'm here to be with you."
We really don't allow each other to have emotions much anymore. And I'm the father of a three-year-old, so I say "that's too much crying" a few times a day at least. That's how early it starts. Now when a toddler is screaming bloody murder, perhaps a little push-back is in order, but the point is nobody ever gets much guidance on how to handle emotions, precisely because it is difficult in those moments of heightened drama to find that Zen stillness - so we do the best we can. But on the personal level, the messaging quickly becomes: figure it out. Which feels a lot like the Myth of Fully Automatic, in that the theme seems to be that you are on your own. I don't know how to fix that, every parent has a different threshold, and in so many ways where your parents' touch-points are on the spectrum of permissiveness will itself be tied to some sense of your destiny, and I think that includes what things tend to make them angry. Which is why we need to spend some time as young adults separating ourselves from the issues that our parents struggled with. So maybe that's the point: in the long-term, zoomed-out perspective of an entire lifetime, everyone is struggling to lose the shackles of their upbringing. If we are lucky, every one of us will get to a point where we see how we were led by our parents and other role models onto a path that was not chosen for us, per se, but rather for a projection of who we are supposed to be in the eyes of who had power during our formative years.
It is powerful stuff: the social rituals we have, the things we share with our children. For some it is professional sports, or theater, or books, or politics; it is a beautiful thing that our essential humanity is shared with our children. But any parent will tell you: sometimes the genes play tricks on you. Sometimes the child is different in subtle ways, than we expect, and we are sure that we know who they are, and what they want, but we are mistaken. A friend of mine just shared a story with me, his son, we'll call him Doug, is going to college next year. Doug was thinking about studying to be an architect. My friend hired a consultant to meet with Doug. Doug is now going to Business School; which happens to be conveniently down the street from Papa's office. The point is not even just that everyone will adapt, which is of course true. The real tragedy is that we don't get too many chances to find out who we are. How much time do we spend trying to be somebody else, for somebody else?
We're going to take our first musical break, this is a new song from an Australian artist that I like very much. His name is Hazlett, and his new track 'Suncats' is released via BLNK Music. A self-proclaimed over-thinker and his own therapist, Hazlett writes music that manages to find beauty in the banalities of modern life.
With a notable past touring and ghost-writing for other artists, Hazlett is following up on his introspective single Fireworks, with a lyrical theme that is dedicated to the whole experience of life: the setbacks, the hard stops, the unexpected surprises. It all figures in to the wisdom that we are left with. Hazlett, with his latest single, pulls an electric guitar and a light drum shuffle together with a simple premise: everything can be beautiful. It's just that sometimes, you just have to wait.
Hazlett - Suncats
So, on to the theme of this episode: The importance of finding a personal stillness. I talked about this a bit last season: the thing about depression, is that you might not know you are in it. What if you were raised by depressed parents, and didn't realize that they were leading you astray? The message these days is: it is a tough world out there - you had better learn to use your family as a resource. Well, what if your family isn't your family? I'm lucky, I have a very supportive family around me, but that was not always the case, and the truth is that even tight-knit families often have an outcast in their midst. What happens to those people? What happens if you want to be an architect, your dad hires a professional to convince you otherwise, you get the stupid Business Degree, and you end up in your thirties with a career you hate? God help you if you borrowed money to graduate.
Because you won't know, really, until you are still. You may have good ideas; being an architect might be a good idea for Doug, or it might be the thing that leads to architectural drawing, and an art aesthetic, and he could end up designing movie sets. Or he might meet a girl in class and drop out. But because Doug's dad just has a general, fuzzy feeling about business being good, and art: bad, Doug himself is stuck at the starting line, waiting for the go-ahead to be himself. There is always the sense of true nature, and the idea that Doug's spirit will find a way, and if you ask Malcolm Gladwell, there is some evidence to suggest that hardship creates character: Steve Jobs, for example, was 'born in 1955 to two University of Wisconsin graduate students who gave him up for adoption'; and that early trauma figured in to his legendary sense of focus, and work-ethic. But I would find it hard to make the case that deliberately thwarting good-faith efforts to find vocational direction is somehow a form of tough love. If you teach kids to think critically, eventually all you have to do is get out of the way.
So let's talk a little bit about ancient traditions for discussing Mental Health. Papyri from the Pharaonic period show that Soma and Psyche were not differentiated - the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche - and mental disorders were described as symptoms of the heart and uterus. So there is no effort to make a distinction between the heart and the mind; and depression is seen uniquely as a personal phenomenon. And although I think, and we'll discuss in more depth, that our parents leave us even in the best-case scenario with emotional damage that needs to heal, I think the largest contributor to depression has to be the role that society plays in making certain decisions easy, and certain of them hard. Why is it easy to choose what to watch tonight on television, but very hard to understand how to schedule a visit to a doctor without having to take out a second mortgage? Why is it really easy to order a pizza, but basically impossible to find a good emotional therapist, and even harder to afford one? My point would just be that it is hard to see the things that are taken for granted; ancient societies couldn't see that they were ignoring a crucial piece in the puzzle: Depression happens between an individual and his or her immediate environment.
In his book Mental Disorders in the Classical World, William V. Harris discusses the approaches to diagnosing mental health that were used by the ancient Romans. Then, as now, there were conflicting narratives about causation, and about prognosis. For them, the prevailing wisdom was that behavior was the will of the Gods, where the pragmatists among them like Hippocrates started looking for physical explanations for phenomenon that were originally attributed to the Gods - like the 'Sacred Disease', ie epilepsy. If you don't give up the easy answers, you don't keep looking for the hard ones. And that, to me, is the missing story, which I discussed last episode in the explanation of the Myth of Fully Automatic, to some degree - if we are to get in touch with our truest self, and find a cosmic sort of happiness in the process of connecting meaningfully with our world, then a necessary first step is identifying the emotional baggage that was imposed upon us by our upbringing, and reversing that. And to revisit: It's not that there are Dougs all over the world that are in business school when they should be doing an art major. Whatever - that will work itself out. It's just the simple truth that you never know how much time one closed door is going to cost you. Nobody knows.
Let's get to our next musical feature: This is Bad Flamingo, with their track Fire, which was recently featured on an episode of Yellowstone season 2. These two ladies have their style dialed in: bandolera fatal, with a dustbowl vibe and a nice use of color. Sounds like: Singing Cowboys with a drum machine. We put a lyric video together for this one as well, and I'm really happy with how it turned out.
This is Bad Flamingo, with their track Fire.
It occurred to me this morning as I was thinking about my grandfather; I went to visit him in Mexico just before he passed, and I have this memory of sitting at the kitchen table with him, while he described his visit to Europe to see his daughter my mother and switching trains somewhere in Germany and finding out that because the train he was on was running a little bit late, that when they arrive in the station that they would be ushered over to the next train as quickly as possible so that it would be able to leave soon and minimize the delay for all the other passengers. And I just remember the joy and the Wonder in his eyes as he describe that to me, because he was so overjoyed that he knew his presence was prioritized. He just was so grateful that an entire train would wait for him. And in doing so, he really gave me a gift of humility. Of understanding that this man that I hold in such high regard, who really shaped who I was and who I was to become, was such a humble man as to be so impressed by such a show of respect. He essentially taught me how to be happy when the train is waiting for you. What I'm realizing today is that no one taught me what to do when there is no train. I have been forced to teach myself how to wait for a train that may or may not be coming. I think that is much harder.Intuition helps you the same way that loneliness does, in the sense that you never need to look for confirmation - in the one case because you don't need it, and in the other because you can't have it. So that might have been one of the most important moments in my life, the Revelation that triggered all other revelations. Am I multi-class, or a single roll - can I grow my life the way I want it, or am I going to let external validation be the thing that holds me back?
Final thought: New Beginnings
How to we make a new beginning? Well, let's start with how to handle someone who is depressed. Cry now, or cry later - but this is when you do it! The worst is to never cry at all. Welcome to America, where we stigmatize emotion itself. Rule #1: It's ok to cry. Make it clear that you are a safe space for real emotion.
Rule #2: Don't say random shit. There are 3 levels to being there for someone, and are appropriate to increasing levels of closeness:Level 1 Say nothingLevel 2 reassuring smileLevel 3 hugsThat is it. That is all you have to do.
This last song is from an artist in Los Angeles named Henry Hall. I love his sense of adventure, a very impressive falsetto, and a general willingness to do crazyshit in the studio that other people don't. And the video is classic DIY ingenuity: Good ideas, and good execution, and all that ice just starts making you feel thirsty. We also want to thank him for sending in his video, because our feed now is broadcast to television in Europe on Tuesday Mornings, this broadcast of Proverbial Ice by Henry Hall is the first official music video on the CHILLFILTR channel. We hope to feature many more, and if you are submitting for blog consideration, please add a note to let me know that you have a music video that you can submit in 1080p resolution.
All right, here we go.
This episode of CHILLFILTR: Indie Music on Tap was brought to you by Krister Axel and The River South, and was produced in Southern Oregon with help from ASHLAND IO LLC. We support our local community and are proud to be underwriters for Jefferson Public Radio. Our blog pieces are published weekly at CHILLFILTR.com, the podcast is available at IndieMusicOnTap.com, and our video feed is broadcast to Tibo subscribers on Euro Indie Music TV.
Come back next week for our next topic which is the power of messaging. As always I appreciate your support. If you are suffering from depression, please reach out to your community for support.
Thank you for listening to the second episode of Indie Music on Tap, Season 2.