What do we turn to when the black dog pops on to our shoulders?
So many people go to a song, a poem, a book; solace in the repetitive patterns of something comforting, something sad, something happy. Me, I always turned to musical melancholy or a trusted battered American novel, (Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo or The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb or The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach) a story that I know I could open on any page and dive right into the life of someone else for a short period of time, comforting time that takes you away and gives the brain chance to find a new synapse to fire, a new spark that will help me find a different path to go head down.
Music and literature and art; ‘THE’ arts, the saviour of many a dark mood, the difference between falling down the long and deep tunnel and being able to perform a U turn that puts you (me) back in the moment, able to make a difference and care completely about the world around me.
There is no cure to depression, there is no cure to being sad, we need a way to cope, to ‘be’ something else. Everyone needs their own recipe to happiness or at least to that momentary difference that you can build on, something repetitive to distract you, to give you enough time to breath.
Music after all is a series of repeating patterns of varying complexity; eight notes to the octave for mere mortals and that sudden leap to twelve notes per octave for the seriously darker genres of Country, Blues and Jazz. There is nothing really stopping the number of octaves other than the physicality of the instrument and therefore there could (indeed should) be a song for every mood of every person on earth. The ‘free bar’ of Apple Music and Spotify have made it so much more possible to find that musical moment that you need, although sometimes that now is overwhelming when there is one ‘thing’ you know you need.
I’m Richard and I am addicted to miserable music when I am low, Red House Painters, Nick Drake, Radiohead, Cat Power, Sun Kil Moon, Low, Mojave 3 crikey the list could go on, there once was a time when this was my music and only now when I look back do I realise why, my world now is full of richer brighter colours more often but the complexity of those songs and the mood they could change is never lost on me in 2019 or 1999 or 1989.
What can we rely on though, I know that a glass of red and Down Colourful Hill or Ocean Beach and a little bit of solitary time will normally stop me in my tracks and remind me of what I can do, what I am here to do, and that’s ok for me, but no one who has been there can really ever ‘prescribe’ their cure for the next person. I have only ever met one other person who would listen to Red House Painters at their worst for example, and he was a fanatic Red House Painters fan anyway!
The sheer size of the ‘medicinal’ arsenal available to us when we turn to literature holds even less bounds than music. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, five vowels and twenty one consonants, making up the books of the world, all 130 million of them, each book has an impact on someone, somewhere, sometime. Languages hold no bounds other than the learning required to make sense of them which simply adds more and more to the arrangement that is available to you.
Once it comes to words to create stories the world become less and less random. The art in creating with the twenty six letters of the alphabet, the five letters as vowels; A, E, I, O, and U and the remaining twenty one as the consonants never cease to prove the human capability to be ‘artful’. In The Science of Story Telling by Will Storr he opens with the comment,
We know how this ends. You’re going to die and so will everyone you love. And then there will be heat death. All the change in the universe will cease, the stars will die, and there’ll be nothing left of anything but infinite, dead, freezing void.
I think I mentioned already I love a bit of melancholy! His point though is the human ability to tell stories needs to be boundless to give us all a moment of hope for every single new day, hope is derived from thinking about what tomorrow brings, we need to be convinced that tomorrow is new and brings something different, after all we are not living in the Matrix (are we?).
In the same way as the jazz men of old decided to begin to count the black keys as notes in an octave in their own right when we speak the words of a story in the form of a poem or spoken word performance art we again hear something different. The letter Y is sometimes considered a sixth vowel by poets and spoken word artists because it can sound like other vowels. Unlike consonants, each of the vowel letters has more than one type of sound or can even be silent with no sound at all extending again the beauty and curative medicine contained in the written word. But, if we did adopt this principle whole heartedly it would ruin the Cheshire Cat’s song in Alice wouldn’t it, a true happines finding song if ever there could be one!
The story of the sixth vowel and the inclusion of the black notes in an octave should teach us that what we have in this world is ours to be manipulated, even the most steadfast rules can be bent to create a new normal, a new way to help each other and perhaps most importantly to give us new tools to help ourselves.
The reach we have to help each other should hold no bounds. But, we do need to remember that my prescription will not be the answer to the person sitting next to me and their ailment, and with depression, with Mental Health, all we can do is offer help in a consistent, reliable and honest manner.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s heaven for?
Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)
Writing, sharing from our own experiences in as honest and open manner as possible gives us an opportunity to achieve a different outcome I think. In recent times I know that my world has changed a lot and that as I head further into 2019 it is the most unknowable of years, with the support that I have built though I am convinced that I can make the unknowable more exciting than scary and I can avoid heading down melancholy hill. Knowing change and knowing the support you need to enable change to happen around you is one of the keys to life I think, a lesson for 2019 though is best taken from an Instagram poet;
“From stardust we must come
to stardust we go
this is for certain
the rest is”
#AYearInPoems #29 “Sometimes its good just to know how small you actually are.”
….and enjoy being that!
Last year around this time I wrote my first blog piece that wasn’t related to work and being a CIO in the healthcare business.
I wrote it on a whim to reflect on all the great things that 2013 had brought, and boy 2013 had been a great year! 2014 has followed in a similar way, perhaps more change than I would have thought this time last year, I certainly did not think I would be sat in Ireland writing this that’s for sure but it has been a great year.
As with last year music remains a huge part of our lives. In 2014 the theme that started in 2013 continued with a much more cheerful outlook to the music that gets played the most. Since 2002 I have tried to create a playlist of my top twenty songs of the year, it used to be traditional for a group of us to ‘share’ these around but technology has moved us on, I am not sure what some people would do with a CD with 20 songs on if I gave it to them nowadays!
So here is my list instead:
So, its 22 rather than 20, I just couldn’t get it any lower this year, there has been so much new and different music available, I guess some of that is related to how easy it is to listen to new music and some of it relates to the impact of peoples tastes who you are around? So much of it reminds me now of the sunshine, some of it even comes from a prediction made as a comment on the 2013 version of this blog (Step up Alex T with the wise words on Gorgon City).
Yet again I feel I ‘could have done better’ with the book diary, there have been some gems in there though, both literary wonder and classic beach fodder! My top five books of the year are:
If I had to pick a top book though it would be Matt Haig’s, an absolutely brilliant ride of a book, half way social commentary, half way sci-fi half way comedy, surely its crying out for the film rights to be snapped up!
Also highly recommended for anyone who wants to try to understand what baseball is all about are two wonderful items; the first is a book simply called Baseball by George Vecsey, it puts the context, rules, excellence and addiction out there and allows you to begin to understand why Baseball is the sport it is, the second item is the film to Million Dollar Arm which is so entertaining and delivers a real insight into how Baseball is played in America, a great way to move on to films.
When it comes to films I still seem to be a wait for the Blue Ray kind of person it would seem, much to the irritation of my other half. So my top five films are all ones I have either seen on Blue Ray or on flights this year:
So my cinematic taste hasn’t grown up still. Last year I missed Gravity, Captain Phillips, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club off the list all of which were amazing films but films mean something different to me than music, they seem to be so much more about the immediate gratification whereas I am so much more patient with music and its ability to get under your skin and grow with you. Both Lone Survivor and The Conjuring had me hiding behind my hands and yelling at the screen, for me what a film should do?!
In 2013 we travelled a great deal, when we look back on it now it was only a dint in the travel we did in 2014. For me two weekend breaks we took were something else, to be in Rome for my 40th birthday was extraordinary, wine tasting in a quite wonderful little back-water wine cellar with a small bunch of people was a special experience. The other weekend break was a late trip to Barcelona, a city I have always wanted to visit, and now would go back at the drop of a hat, we were very lucky, we went when it would be a little quieter so we could get around and yet the weather was mostly great. So much to see though, so many wonderful little places to eat and drink truly a great city to enjoy the ‘bar fly’ experience.
Our Easter trip to the states was quite a surprise too, both of us on a proper road trip taking in Boston, Princeton, Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC in ten days meant we got to experience so much of east coast USA. We were able to live out our West Wing fantasies at Foggy Bottom as well as see the quite extraordinary experience that is the NYC Easter bonnet parade, never have I seen so much effort go into the creation of a hat!
The most important trips though have to be the Ireland trips this year, arriving in August to be interviewed for what would become my dream job was quite a scary trip but one that re-affirmed that we both wanted it, house hunting Kirsty and Phil style was a couple of fun days too and got us to where we wanted to be for the next chapter in our lives.
The last list of ‘things’ for 2014 is the events, last year it was the gigs and theatre trips, this year it has to stretch to be the events a little more, I thought last year it was because I am getting too old for the gigs, and I still think this is probably the case, but also its becoming just as much fun to go to the speaking events and be part of these as it is to dance the night away at a gig:
So, that’s it, the end of 2014, and the leap into 2015! With several friends getting married in 2015, holidays in the calendar already, camping in Northumberland and the family traditions of Ibiza and Field Day to look forward to already I can’t wait to sit here and reflect on 2015 in twelve months’ time.
Thanks for reading….
Happy New Year!
Please forgive me for dropping a more socially biased blog on to this site, I wanted to try to capture my thoughts on the year that was, the things that had an impact on me and how so much ‘media’ and ‘culture’ really does have an impact on who we are and what we do…
I’ve been with my partner in crime for two years, and our tastes in all things cultural were probably about 70% similar when we met, slowly but surely I am being converted, particularly to a different kind of music. I can reflect on that a great deal as I do what I have done every year since 2002 and collate my top 20 songs of the year:
So, gone is the miserable guitar music, hardly any Americana, and no Ryan Adams. In is a more cheery outlook, some beats and the word remix! My best friend thinks this is a great change, he once told me he didn’t ‘get’ my music because it was very ‘band based’. I have to say I have enjoyed discovering some new music this year and turning that misconception of mine that the majority of music with beats could also double as a car alarm!
One thing that hasn’t changed though is my love of the ‘Comic Book Film’, and whether they came out this year or not watching and re-watching The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Superman, Batman and Spiderman still makes me feel like a kid and is something I can now ‘share’ with my partner in crime, I’m not sure she always wants to have these shared at her though but…
My favourite new films of the year though have to be,
Not quite cinematic masterpieces I am sure and I haven’t seen Gravity or Captain Phillips yet so they didn’t make it on here!
The book diary is nowhere near as full as I wanted it to be at the start of 2013, I set a target of a book a month, which I hit, but I had hoped for a few more and I seem to have read books about work more this year than ever before. Top two recommendations from me are:
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: A wonderful American novel delivering a warm story of coming of age no matter where you are from.
The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver: Gave me more food for thought and analogies than any other book I have ever read, I wasn’t sure if it was a book that I would apply to work or not, but I did!
When it comes to going out and visiting new places 2013 certainly did that for me, so my top few destinations are below, they are not all new destinations for me but sharing the experiences with new people in some cases has made the destination that bit even more special:
And if I am honest Café Mambo should be on there again, because returning in August with a bunch of friends and seeing their faces as it went from relatively quiet to ‘THE’ place to be for the evening was a wonderful experience.
Your interest in things matures and evolves I guess, I thought I would give most things a go (although still not Oysters!) but giving Ceviche a go was a marvel, now I am looking for it on every menu wherever we visit!
Last on the lists is the live music and theatre experiences, there have been less this year than in years gone by, either I am getting old or enjoying being home a little too much but the top gigs have to be:
All in all a great year, in fact the best year, I am excited about 2014, already plenty of plans, some to simply do what we did last year and some new experiences to have……
Happy new year everyone.