Loving Myself (Ugh)

My therapist: “You need to practice self-compassion,”

Me: “I will… when I earn it.”

We sit facing each other in her cozy office, with the light from a large window casts a friendly glow over us. It’s been a good session so far. I like her. She reads all the right books; she has a Wonder Woman water bottle on her desk. She even uses just the right amount of profanity. She smirks at me gently, because even though we’ve only had a handful of sessions, she still seems to know me pretty well at this point, and I see no reason to pretend I make any kind of sense.

I don’t love myself. I am not self-compassionate or self-caring. Sometimes my depression makes me very selfISH, and the damage that does to me and to my life and to my relationships… It has ruined any chance of me looking at self-love with any kind of realistic viewpoint.

So I need to start here: why not love myself?

Answer: I’m afraid of being a narcissist. I’m afraid that while I often hate myself, I also do sometimes think of myself and my own wants before anyone else, and if you covered that with a blanket of self-adulation or vanity, I might be an unstoppable force of evil in the galaxy.

Except…

Self-worship, self-adulation, selfishness, vanity… these things are not self-love or self-care. Narcissism is based on what the mindless self wants. Self-care seeks out what the mindful self needs.

There are things I need to do for myself that my soul genuinely needs like my body needs air, water, food, etc. I need Forgiveness, Purpose, Love, Passion, Mission, Recreation… all the things that Depression wants to shove aside and replace with Escape. The things I need will keep me healthy, but my Depression wants me to starve on a diet of spiritual and emotional junk food.

The worst part about it is that I’ve convinced myself that by denying myself these things I’m making some noble sacrifice, as if denying myself these things will mean that there’s enough to go around for everybody else. It doesn’t work that way.

I’ve got to stop saying I hate myself. I’ve got to stop saying I suck. Saying these things out loud gives too much power to this disease that’s putting itself between me and my future. I don’t need fancy tricks or cute activities to woo myself into a loving relationship. I just need to start with a cease-fire in my head. No more “I Hate Me.” No more “I suck.”

Maybe when that’s done I can take a bubble bath or something.

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With Gratitude for Mees Auditorium

I am sitting in the lobby of Mees Auditorium at Capital University, I’m in a small alcove off to the side of the main lobby, sitting on a couch next to music lockers and a low table with a very academic lamp. There are two other men sitting with me. We haven’t acknowledged each other. One is reading a novel with his glasses unworn and hanging from his shirt collar. The other man has just finished a bowl of BibiBop Korean food and is now squinting at his laptop. The three of us wait in our own little separate bubbles, waiting for Junior Winds rehearsal to finish.

Our little area is quiet enough that I can hear the familiar sounds of this building that I have known for over 30 years. I can hear Mr. Dowdy in the auditorium, giving instructions to my daughter and the rest of the Junior Winds ensemble. I can’t make out any words, but I know his voice and know his patter with the students a little at this point. The echo in the auditorium isn’t friendly to an human voice without amplification, but it loves the sound of music, and soon I can hear the swell of horns and winds.

I can also hear conversations of students passing by from one room to the next. Some conversations sound earnest and academic, others dumb and irreverent. These are also sounds very familiar to me. At one time they were conversations I had in this space, long ago. Now those conversations belong to others while i hear them as ambient noise.

I like coming here to Capital. I like that my constant returning here over the years…first as a student, then alumni, then as a faculty spouse, and now as a parent… has prevented the home of my youth from becoming alien to me. It is not my home anymore, but neither is it so far removed from me that I feel uneasy here. It has simply become one of the many settings of my life, holding music and the love of music within its walls, constantly welcoming new voices in and then later propelling those voices out into the world. So many of my friends became music teachers, band and orchestra directors, professional musicians… and then there’s me, who did my best to help my kids love music even more than I do.

Tonight I am grateful for music. For its ability to bind my family together even during the rough times. For its persistence in breaking through the power of my own personal demons. I am grateful for Mees Auditorium and Capital University. I am grateful to professors and peers who helped me be the best singer I could be during my time here. And I am grateful for every note that I hear tonight, echoing off the walls and through the halls of this place that has loved me so.

With Gratitude for Abigail

Tonight I am grateful for my daughter. On the surface she is a screwball musical comedy. Dig a little and under the surface you will find a sensitive artist who cries when someone even comes close to nudging her feelings. Dig a little deeper and you will find a Warrior of the Realm, a Defender of the Downtrodden, an Avenger, a Defender, a hero to all who may be hurting or frightened. The fact that she is all these things at 15 gives me hope and pride.

And yes, I am her father so you may shrug off my words… but I tell you I am a witness to her strength and her rage and her love. I see her not just with love but with admiration. The world better get ready.

This is What I Hear

This is what I hear. This is what I can’t escape. This is why I don’t write for more than five paragraphs at a time.

You suck. You can’t write. You’re just enough about writing to know that what other people can write is good, but at best your writing is derivative.

What can you write that hasn’t been written before? You want to write about depression? Oh wow, like that hasn’t been done by like thousands of others before you. You want to write about music? You can’t sing, you can’t play trombone like you used to (and when you did, you weren’t that great), and your attempts to play guitar are laughable. Why would you think anyone would want to write what you could sputter out about music?

You’re a fake and a sham. The only kindness you get from others is rooted in pity, and pity can’t outlast impatience. People are getting tired of you and your shit. Your only purpose in life is to be a warning to other not to reach too high.

You’re garbage. Your writing is sophomoric, reflective of a mind that is slowly disappearing into despair and confusion. Why don’t you step away from the computer…because you have no business using a keyboard.

How do other people with depression ever manage to create? I really would like to know.

Blue Devils

Once there was a war in heaven, so the stories go. The stories are true, for the most part. It was The War, The First War, The War to Begin All Wars, and there was not a spot in all of creation that did not fall in its shadow. It was a war between the Creator and the Once-Beloved, The Light, the Morning Star. Why the war was fought, who struck the first blow…these are things that storytellers disagree on. I have my own theories, but you might have your own. The thing that almost everybody agrees upon is that the Creator triumphed and exiled The Once-Beloved outside the Shining Kingdom.

The Once-Beloved and the rest of its followers, no co-exiles, found themselves on the newly created Earth, with all its Life and wonders. However, for all its primeval beauty, the Exiles were in agony, for they were not created to live in Mortality. Their skin scrawled, their stomachs retched, their eyes bulged…until the Once-Beloved, in desperation, clawed a hole in the wall of Creation, and climbed through into another place, with the rest of the Exiles following.

This new place, twice removed from their place of origin, was filled with absolutely nothing. It had no height nor width nor depth. It was Nothing, and it was now the home of the Exiled, because in that place they could once again turn back to their hatred of Creator and Creation, and while in that No Place they could not see the Shining Kingdom, they could see its reflection in the Earth and the Life upon it.

Their hatred grew.

However, not all of the Exiled were the same. Most of them were licked and scarred by the flames of The War, and their wound did not heal, so they were red and their anger grew in reaction to the pain that never went away. They sometimes grew so terrible with rage they would jump back through the hole of creation in order to kill, to maim, to sow chaos in creation. Some were brutish, some were sly, but they all took delight in spreading evil.

There was also a smaller group of the Exiled that had not been directly involved in the battle and so did not bear those same scars on their skin. When they fell to Earth, their first reaction was to moan in agony from the loss of warmth of The Creator’s presence. In those few moments on the surface of the Earth, they fell into self-pity and regret, and their skin and bones and hair and organs and everything they were turned blue the loss of the Creator’s love. When these Exiles escaped with their peers into the No Place, they did not turn immediately turn to vengeful hatred of the Creation, but rather hatred of self. The were not noble or repenting, but mewling, pathetic creatures who did nothing of action. Instead, they let their waves of resentment leak out into Creation, and if you would happen to be caught in one of these waves, you would do anything, even end your own life, to be rid of the anguish.

Once human beings began to walk on earth, some of them became aware of the Exiles next to the Earth and under it, and they called them devils. The red ones were feared. The blue ones were almost never spoken of. And under the shadow of secrecy, the Blue Devils began to exert their influence in a different way.

Learning to Play

I unzip my guitar case, lift out my guitar, select my pick for the evening, and take my seat in the living room with a music stand in front of me. I place my iPhone on the stand and select an app to tune. I don’t have to make too many adjustments, which pleases me for some unknown reason…it feels like I earn bonus points if my strings are at least moderately in tune.

I switch to the Yousician app to begin my practice, and it takes me through a couple of warm-up songs. I like playing along to the tracks they provide; it makes me feel accomplished. However, that feeling goes away as soon as the lesson proper begins, because I still can’t play chords properly. I roll my fingers up and down, left and right, but every strum sounds out dead notes. I can’t proceed to the next lesson until I produce perfect chords, and the mic is way too good at picking up my mistakes.

I swear. Silently.

Marty Music on YouTube is friendly, enthusiastic, and couldn’t care less if I play wrong notes, and I’m tempted to just switch mid-lesson over to his channel… but I feel like if I do that it’ll be like taking a dangerous short cut, and I really want to get these chords right.

So I roll my fingers a few more directions. Maybe this time the dead notes will be gone.

Or maybe this time.

No, this ti-…