Move Me Brightly

August 20, 2010

Inspiration is the holy grail of human existence.

That moment where the proverbial lightbulb illuminates is almost indescribably priceless.

It is like the first rest stop after a very long road trip– instantly relieving. Primally satisfying.

When our creative minds culminate in such a revelatory burst, it feels like a release. Like we’ve finished a puzzle, solved a riddle, or discovered a new planet, inspiration leaves us with a child-like, or perhaps even post-coital joy. I believe the gratification we get from our own inventiveness stems from a deeply psychological place; a place where the innocence of a new idea can be fostered before it is exposed to the world. We cradle our little flash of brilliance like a newborn, admiring with a private smile. We feel good about it, if only for a moment, before we share it with anyone else.

At least I know I do.

To expect a constant flow of inspiration is pretty idealistic. Sure, there have been some impressive minds in our time with the ability to consistently crank out well-composed, thoroughly engaging art or ideas, but we call those people prodigies. They are anomalies. Exceptions, not the rule. For the most part, I think the human condition is nothing if not a search for the next big thing: fire, paper, guitars, and computers. The rest of the animal kingdom surely teems with envy at our mere ability to conceptualize, nonetheless produce, such commonplace phenomena.

When inspiration strikes without warning, it’s just that much better. As a writer, and friend to many artists and musicians, I am all too familiar with the struggle to create. I have experienced firsthand the frustration that accompanies artistic obstruction: when a writer is not writing what, then, are they?

For many years, I kept my output high by working under pressure. As a journalist, it was easiest for me to contrive the (admittedly often banal) content when I was on a deadline. It prevented me from overanalyzing my opening sentence, my verbiage, and the placement of each comma. When generating articles for a news-type publication, it was best to stick with the facts, to be engaging but not controversial. That type of writing was, for me, was like a marathon runner hitting up the gym. It kept me in shape, kept my ego sufficiently stroked, but it wasn’t personally gratifying. It felt good, because it was words (mmm words), but it wasn’t truly inspired. It didn’t have any soul.

Then I stopped writing.

For the first time since I could put letters and phrases together, I just didn’t have the desire to do so. Initially, I felt a relief at the lack of pressure, lack of expectation, lack of mandate to do something I had once so greatly enjoyed. I felt a “good riddance” emotion toward my former passion. I was bitter toward my lack of inspiration, and frustrated by the robotic quality of my creation.

In my mind, it was better to not be writing at all than to be writing only blurbs, yawn-worthy local news, or mundane blog posts about (what i felt to be) my mundane life. I rationalized the unimportance of my art. Convinced myself that nobody would miss it, not even me. Of course, I realize now the role of perspective in all this. I wasn’t down on my writing as much as I was just down on myself.

Recently, after a nearly two year hiatus, inspiration and I were reacquainted. We fumbled for a bit, like awkward lovers, but I have discovered that our romance is not only still alive, but hotter than ever! It started sort of slowly, but now I feel back into the swing of things. I have been filling up notebooks and journals, I have been blogging and writing prose. There is no financial or physical reward, and it’s almost better this way. Satisfaction is derived solely from pairing nouns with their congruous adjectives, assigning actions their befitting descriptors, and telling stories with the flair of drama I see in even the most platitudinous events.

I have found my muse and unearthed the dormant artist within. I am feeling more like myself than ever before and that, in and of itself, is a truly inspirational thing.

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. [[Ray.Bradbury]]

Thank you all for attending my first rebirthday party! As this is my virtual AA meeting, I must warn you that today I am going to be shamelessly celebrating the life and times of booze-free Kat.

August 16, 2010 marks exactly one calendar year since my last alcoholic beverage. That is 364 days longer than I ever anticipated, and, as cheesy as it sounds, I honestly find myself grateful for each one more than the last.

To be clear– I am in no way against alcohol use. In fact, I love alcohol. Unhealthily. I have no problem with my friends enjoying cocktails, or even getting wasted. I can still go out and have a good time, and completely understand the enjoyment people get from having few of those socially lubricating beverages. I am not here to preach, guilt, or otherwise pass moral judgements.

"Yo Ho Hoe & A Bottle of Rum 2008"

Nor am I going to lament here about the person I was. Dragging her down at this juncture is redundant, and a disservice to who I’ve been. She was just lost up Jack Daniels Creek, and too drunk to paddle home. She was not a monster, but a tragedy steeped in cheap wine. I am not angry or embarrassed by her, I’m just glad she was able to help herself before nobody could.

Today is about how far I have come in the past 52 weeks. For anyone who responsibly enjoys alcohol, it may be difficult to comprehend the hold it can have one’s life; the blindfold it ties on one’s spirit. Alcoholism doesn’t breed weakness, weakness breeds alcoholism. I was looking for something to feel complete, but settled for feeling nothing at all.

Day one was full of tears and regrets. Actually the entire first week, maybe even month, was that way. It was a revelation: a sobering shot of reality after a long stretch of blackout oblivion. I realized at this time that everyone who had stuck around through the years– those I am fortunate enough to call my friends and family– loved me far more than I loved myself. They were watching me fall hard. Over and over again. Trying to reach for my hand, but being denied every time. I was fine. Sure, I could help myself.

What can I say?

I’m a redhead. An Irish girl. A fire sign. Year of the Tiger. [excuse excuse excuse]

We don’t take kindly to anyone’s advice, however well-intentioned. I do things my way. I slip and fall. Every lesson is learned the hardest way possible.

But I’ll be damned if those lessons don’t have some staying-power.

From August to December, I entered hibernation. I was depressed, I really hated who I had been, and wasn’t sure who I was. I had a lot of broken bridges to mend, a lot of mental fog to shake, and a lot of self-worth to replace. Reflecting on it, perhaps hibernation isn’t really a proper term, as I was far from dormant. It was more of a cocoon; the first step in a major metamorphosis.

The winter time usually brings on a bout of depression, but this winter it was different. Although it felt like I kept pushing to the top just to watch life roll back down, I was still able to keep a smile about it. New Years Eve, for once, seemed to mark a real change.

2010 was decidedly about potential. It was about taking care of Kat. I was eating better, getting my reprehensibly-neglected finances in order, and coming to terms my mistakes. In the face of everything that was wrong, I was able to stay focused on what was right. A monument in my sobriety.

Winter turned to spring. I fell in love. I began to write again.

At the onset of summer, I had a second revelation. As I lay in bed one Sunday morning, calculating the proximity of the nearest liquor store, it dawned on me that the booze was never going to fill the hole. There was nothing “wrong” at the time, I simply wanted to drink. To self-destruct. I realized in that moment that all the love given to me was meaningless if I just let it flow through, even more-so if I diluted it. The stopper in my existential black-hole was not just love, but love for myself. This revelation, as important as the last, has since been my guiding light through some dark moments of weakness. It put into perspective my expectations of others, and serves to remind me that this life is mine.

So, today I throw myself a party. Because nobody else will be, or should be, celebrating as much as Kat. I am one year into being the person I want to be; a person whom I love. The insecurities are still there, painfully obvious to me at all times, but I’m no longer afraid of them. The reasons I drank still haunt me, but I see those ghosts becoming old friends. Although it is still a struggle, leaving my crutch at the door (some days especially), I have never before felt so happy, beautiful, or positive about the future.

And today, that is enough reason to stay sober.

Some Say Men, But I Say No

August 13, 2010

Lately I’ve been wondering what the long-term effects of the women’s rights movement have really been on America.

Now, before defending to me my rights to vote, and pointing out the many freedoms I enjoy as a modern female, hear me out. I actually consider myself to be a feminist. I’m not going to say it was a one step forward; two steps back situation. More like society took two steps forward; right off the map.

The past hundred years can be seen as a cold war between the sexes– an arms race where each side stockpiles with a smile. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” and that “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus,” are now a given. From the inception of women’s suffrage,  the genders have been inherently pitted against each other in the public mind. Separate. But equal.

Does anyone really believe that to be the case?

In entering what we decidedly refer to as “a man’s world” during the 20th century, womankind came  to assume the responsibility of professional success– that is to say, she put on a mans suit, walked into a mans office, and demanded the respect of the men around her.

Woman was ready to prove that she was strong, intelligent, and prepared to be everything that man had been for so long. She wanted to drink their scotch, talk their sports, and smoke their cigars. Arguably, women didn’t want to be equal: they wanted to be men. In an attempt to earn man’s respect (which, in and of itself seems to undermine the concept of the movement) she toned down her sex appeal; she put her heels on the floor; and made it clear that she was nothing– NOTHING– like her toilet-scrubbing, pot scouring brethren.

The true tragedy of the “battle of the sexes,” in my observation, is that modern woman seems more in competition with her sisters than anything. Instead of standing together, women have unwittingly divided and conquered ourselves. My argument here, as someone who has studied other primates eagerly, will be that our gender has been unable to fully assume the archaic male conceptualization of solitude. We just aren’t wired for it.

I am, of course, still a proponent of conscious evolution. But the fact of the matter is that we are animals, and in nearly every species on the planet– our closest genetic cousins very much included– males mate, males protect, males compete for alpha. Males operate in self-preservation mode. Females, for their part, tend to form family-like nodes, take care of each other, and raise children. There is competition for female alpha, but it tends to be much less war-like, and based more in a group “respect” and seniority. Women do not compete in the physically obvious ways men do, it’s a much more socially interactive structure– what each female has to offer the group determines their status. This may help explain the way women, often without bad intent, seem to be constantly judging each other.

The crux in these organizations being that the females generally determine the alpha male of the group. Although males are physically dominant and seem to weld the power, the balance of the social dynamic rests in the willingness of the females to be dominated by a certain male. In a strange way, it’s nearly democracy. Check out Iroquois tribe structures for similar findings.

Humanity has attempted to thwart natural order, in the curious way we do. It seem to me, and I am speaking primarily in Western cultures, that from the time mankind had the revelation that women were, in fact, great bearers of power (if only for being bearers of future generations), they attempted to harness and control womankind.

Lust became sin. Woman came to represent temptation, weakness, and the harbinger of evil to the garden of Eden. In shifting the psychology of our biology, men did their best to subjugate femininity.

This attitude has prevailed for thousands of years, replicated in politics and religion alike. A woman who uses her natural-born sexuality– her biological gift of power– is considered a hussy, an opportunist, and is somehow rationalized to be less successful for “self-exploitation.” On the flip side, a woman who chooses to stay at home, raise a family, and has her husband generating income is, however silently, still judged.

In contemporary culture, men seem confused about what women want. And I am starting to realize that’s due in large part to women’s confusion about our roles in this new era. What is the measure of success for a woman? What is the measure of success for a man? Are they the same? What does a man provide a woman? What does a woman provide a man? Are they the same?

I don’t have the answers. What I do have is something that my mother (a perfect product of her generation’s gender identity crisis, having grown up in one of the only single-parent homes on her block at the time) told me during my formative years. Something her mother told her, and something that I consider the best advice for maintaining a relationship in a cultural period where even defining the word “is” has proven difficult.

Mama bear never ever told me “don’t trust a man.”

She advised I don’t depend on one.

The most important part of a movie about my life would, without a doubt, be the soundtrack. The joyful noise which accompanies my daily happenings is much more than just auditory stimulation– to me it is closer to oxygen.

Steady beats melt my heart; ripping guitar solos wriggle their way wantonly through my grey-matter; and the first drop of a funky baseline is damn near erotic. I am not a musician, yet music is my life. I cannot read a scale, yet I would give up food before tunes.

Growing up, I recall (quite literally) falling asleep in front of large speakers on more than one occasion. My father’s audio collection was years in the making, and impressively diverse. Music was fed into my small ears even through the womb. Everything from Black Sabbath to Eric Clapton. From The Doors to Devo; The Grateful Dead to the Talking Heads. I digested it all. Every last Genesis, Zeppelin, and Yes album. I knew the Jimi Hendrix Experience before I was ever truly experienced. I had my first rockstar crush on Kurt Cobain by 7 years old.

My mother, for her part, lives and loves the blues. Robert Cray, Muddy Waters, and BB King all populate her collection. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young bring her back to hazy college days, and Stevie Ray Vaughn often helped her clean the house.

My father’s passion for music infected me in ways it took years to even realize. He and nearly all his friends were musicians– or at least makers of music. During my childhood, music was more than just sound. It was smiles and laughter, it was being with friends, sometimes it was even a coverup for the arguments. Music was there when I went to bed. There when I awoke. Music was there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

All this exposure to sweet melody has created volumes in my head. Certain songs are part of certain volumes– each vividly dredging up a period of time. For instance, I recall in great detail the winter the Dave Matthews Band released their monumental “Under The Table and Dreaming Album.” I played violin in school ensemble. My father had a fantasy of us in a DMB-esque family band. We listened to that CD over and over for months and, to this day, I remember every lyric to Ants Marching. It’s hard to hear the album without being taken right to that time, that place.

And that is, of course, just one of many examples. As I reflect, my life is rich with musical milestones. Weeks, months, and years flash by to the right album or song. Memory and sound intertwining.

Someday, I will compile an actual soundtrack. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the musical accompaniment of my story will be eclectic, ironic, and emotional.

The soundtrack to my life will undoubtably tell more story than any trivial literary composition ever could.

Where words fail, music speaks. [[HansChristianAndersen]]