What’s Changed?

I keep asking myself what’s changed since I felt adept at writing songs? It was never easy per se but it was common, it was what I did. I worked on Senator’s Daughter for days at a time. I wrote it on receipt paper at work, started fine tuning into into my notebook there, came home and worked on it for maybe six consecutive hours in my studio, slept, went to work and repeated the process. I struggled immensely thinking the song would never get done but within a week I had a version that was playable for others and it was hailed as a master work.

Most songs in my oeuvre probably took 20 to 30 hours of work, whether it was over a month or a year. And now I know I haven’t put it even 10 hours on new songs in the last two years.

Part of it could be that my identity is attached to other things now. I work hard, I work out, I work on myself, I foster relationships… song writing is destroyed by impatience and when there’s so much else I could and should be doing it feels like failure to sit still waiting for a song to take shape.

I also spend a lot of time trying to convince myself it matters, that writing songs is important to me. Which is odd because for my most productive times I don’t recall the feeling that it was important. A lot of it was writing little songs for my friends. I don’t know why I can’t tap into that again.

Maybe I’ve raised my own expectations too high, lost the playfulness that kept me moving.

I also notice I’m listening to less music than ever. Partly because I have less alone time than ever and partly because podcasts are awesome. When I listen to music now it’s specifically joyful music while working out. I don’t tap into the music and emotions that made me write in the past because I’m scared of being depressed again.

I spend energy guiding my emotions now, practicing mind control on myself. I stay in a focused, task oriented, attack-the-day, work out bro, mindset all day because it’s keeps the depression at bay. But it also keeps out that unfocused, dreamy, mindset that lets in new ideas.

In another vein, I’m trapped by the feeling that I have to say something, to justify all the changes and events in my life by making an amazing record. And a lot of my need for self expression is satisfied by this blog where I’m talking directly to you about this. It’s a lot more immediate than working on a song and putting it out there.

I’m an entertainer rather than an artist now. I play for strangers, for crowds that must be won over, so I stand on my strongest material. It’s not about statements coming from Alastair anymore, it’s about the guy on stage doing the audience a favour by not being self-indulgent. I play guitar now doing everything I can for them and never do anything for me.

I don’t have a flag pole to run things up anymore. Primarily it was Rob that I showed ideas to. Just an idea for a song and it would get some traction or it wouldn’t. I’ve tried to artificially re-create that with others since but it’s just not the same.

I’m trying to write songs for me now and that’s actually not what I used to do. I don’t think anyone else’s opinion matters to me anymore. I’ve constructed a safety membrane in which I can think of myself as a good person and can care for others but I don’t care, don’t expect, them to care about me.

When I think about myself as a song writer I think about all the people from the last five years that I trusted, that I put my hope in, and that let me down. I wanted to impress, to earn, to validate myself and songwriting was my only strength so that’s what I relied on. And it didn’t matter. Everyone turned against me at the drop of a hat.

The only way I could move forward was to focus on being an ethical person, helping others, working on myself and being stoic. Rather than trying to earn love I just got to point where I don’t need it, I don’t expect it. It just lets people hurt you. Freedom from wanting to be loved took away the thing that drove me to play shows, to want to be in a scene.

And so I became the other kind of person I always wanted to be. Everyone in my life now is getting the best version of me and really I want nothing from anyone anymore. In a way I’m lonelier than ever because no one can touch my happiness. My current defense mechanism is that I’m pushing love out into the world, supporting people, entertaining people, because if I’m anything less people will just leave me again. But nothing matters to me because I’m numb to the idea that any love can come in.

Desire and despair are closely related. All suffering supposedly comes from desire, freedom from wanting anything should be freedom from despair but wanting not to want anything creates a uniquely empty suffering of its own.

I’m like an exploring finally convinced El Dorado isn’t real who put down roots and built a very fine house. Rather than being upset that I couldn’t find The City Of Gold, I’m a lower key upset that it doesn’t exist. Knowing that what I was searching for didn’t exist didn’t cure the urge that sent me searching in the first place. Some people romanticize perpetual, delusional search but I wasn’t searching for the sake of searching, I was searching because there was something I wanted to find.

 

 

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Posted in Pragmatism

External rewards

Mostly how not to use them.

In a long term study it was found that kids who participated in charity drives at school were less likely than others to become charitable people as adults. The contributing factor? Prizes. Kids who recieved prizes for charity drvies as kids gave no fucks about charity growing up because rather than doing something good for its own sake and feeling the internal reward, it was just a transaction, task = prize.

As we adults working to train our own good habits I think we fall into this same trap a lot. If you do something good, like work out or make a difficult phone call, and you spontaneously want to reward yourself with some cake, you’re going to pick up a four o’clock cake habit, not a working out cold calling habit.

Next time you’re eating cake, or drinking beer, or watching bullshit ‘guilty-pleasure’ shows or whatever you might do thinking you’re rewarding yourself – take stock of how you feel. Does it feel like you’ve done something and this is an act of celebration? Are you joyful? Or are you just going through the motions of happiness without stopping to check?

So step one of the reward system the reward long before it’s due. Work out Monday to Friday and while you’re working out go ahead and think about the cake, enjoy thinking about the cake, fall in love with the exact cake you’re going to have. Wise men say Anticipation is the Reward.

However… You have to enjoy the work out too, you have to enjoy it for its own sake. If you’re the lie-back-and-think-of-England type just slogging through you’ll quit and go have some cake pretty quick.

Training those internal rewards is the step that matters. I used a metaphor a while ago about if you want the dishes done, don’t try to tune out the process, celebrate the fact that you’re doing them, they’re getting closer to done with each brush stroke. It’s the same with working out and with anything, celebrate yourself for what your doing, for getting closer to your goal with each lift or crunch or step or even breath. Watch yourself being the person you want to be. You’re there, you’re doing it. Go ahead and mentally jerk yourself off about it.

Then go have your cake.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Don’t let feelings dictate behavior

One thing I never want to be is a hypocrite. When I was suicidal last year I saw all the ways people weren’t helping. They wanted to, they even thought they were, but the misconceptions and barriers were all over the place.

So I pledged when I got better I wouldn’t do those things to other people. I really do treat others the way I wanted to be treated when they’re in crisis, big or small.

And of course eventually I was tested. Someone in my life was being unbearably shitty, selfish, mean, temperamental, demanding, judgmental, just you know… shitty, and I hated him for it.

Which didn’t matter, it didn’t matter that I hated him. I went through all the motions to help him. I did everything I could to protect him from himself, to love him, to trust that he knew what he needed and to take my cues from him. And he got better. Not because I made him or I fixed him but because I was consistent and ethical and carved out a space for him, that allowed him to get better.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t natural or instinctual. I had to focus every night on my desire to be a protector, I occasionally ranted to other people that it was unfair that I this person was just swinging their emotional baggage around and I was dedicating my entire day, my night, and my weekends, to making sure no one got hit. But I did it, rather than say life isn’t fair and the world is a bad place I did what I could to make it a 0.000000001% better place and ultimately the experience made me a better person too, I look back now and it’s one of the (few) experiences that I’m truly grateful for. It drained my reserves and as a result my reserves got deeper.

The smallest thing that I think made the biggest impact was that I didn’t think I was up here in the ‘better’ realm reaching down into the ‘crisis’ half of the chart to help. I thought I’m going to form a team with this person and with every person involved and we’ll get somewhere better together. I will get into a crisis like an emotional life guard because when it comes to hard times I’m a strong fucking swimmer and I can be there for people who find themselves in the deep end.

Most importantly I didn’t offer to help, I just started doing things that I thought would help and I checked the results.

When I look at anyone now I think what can I do to lift them up? What can I do to help them flourish? It’s hardest with people who seem like they’ve got the farthest to go and aren’t even trying but I’m honestly working on that.

I mentally check in with my role models and honestly think it’s what they would do. It’s what Sam Harris would do, it’s what Jocko Willink would do, it’s what Frank Turner would do. When you go to a Frank show he isn’t doing it so that you can go there and adore him, he’s doing so he can go there and adore you. It’s about making the world better by making people better, by being a team mate in fulfillment.

 

That’s humble leadership, that’s real friendship, and I’m hoping to get to the point where I can treat everyone at that level. And my reserves run dry, with some people faster than others, but I’m always working on deepening them.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Not because it’ll make you happy

Advice from a depressed person to depressed people.

First, get out of bed. No sleeping in, no multiple alarms, no complaining. This is the first win of the day, it sets your hit point meter for the day going up instead of down. The key to change is to notice that you’re not enjoying the old behavior anyway. The multiple alarms, the internal lecture starting up about how you can’t do anything you should, the soreness, the thirst, the fact that you have to pee, those extra minutes in bed in the morning aren’t the soft Sunday light of a coffee commercial – they suck, stop doing it.

Having a good morning is really tied to having a good night and I’ll cover that at the end of the day.

So you’re up, what’s the second test? Don’t engage with a screen. Don’t scroll memes, don’t hit up facebook, don’t turn on the TV. You might as well have stayed in bed being shitty if all you’re going to do is sit like a lump and poison your brainwaves.

What are you going to do? You’re going to prioritize and execute. You’re going to do something important, first thing. Yoga, working out, running, or getting the kids ready for school, you are going to attack it. Thinking you’re going to ease into the day means you’re going to ease yourself out of doing fucking anything. So get after it, not because it’ll make you happy, but because you’ve got shit to do well today.

Then you’re going to eat breakfast, you’re going to eat protein, vegetables, maybe a bit of fruit but you want to avoid sugar – even natural sugar. Your body is already jumpstarting for the day, you don’t need to spike your system with empty calories and make your body think you’re fueled up when you’re not.

You’re also going to take a handful of vitamins. Not because it’ll make you happy but because you know there’s no diet that can give you everything your body needs. When it comes to depression if you sabotage your body, your body will sabotage you. Maintaining a vitamin regiment is the easiest way to develop a sense of control, it’s literally just swallowing, and so much of depression is the sense that everything has spiraled out of control. You can fight that feeling with the power of swallowing.

Dress not like a slob. In your pajama pants or your sweats or whatever you’re telling yourself you just want to be comfortable. Well, are you? Are you emotionally comfortable when other people see you? A big part of depression is trying to be self-centered when you’re actually not. You tell yourself it shouldn’t matter what other people think but what you mean is it shouldn’t matter what I think other people think but it does. You walk around all day thinking everyone who sees you can tell you’re a loser, guess how you’re going to feel…

Dress like a winner for a couple days and take the time to notice that you feel better. Look for the symptoms of happiness like standing up straighter, making eye contact, feeling connected to your surroundings.

And again, none of this stuff is going to make you feel happy, not at first and not any one thing, there is no tipping point from depressed to happy. This is about living a happy life to train your feelings against misery, to give them no misery to grab onto, to stay out of reach of the reaper you gotta me moving forward.

Never back down from a challenge you think you can do, don’t talk yourself out of shit. Keep racking up wins all day. Even getting out of bed counts, if you get out of bed immediately you cut off the first chance for the loser-fairy to whisper in your ear. Keep it cut off. Don’t walk around with should-have-saids in your head all day. When you have something to say it doesn’t mean you blurt it out or make it a demands, just start conversations about what’s on your mind, just introduce the topic and engage with people. When you don’t say what you’re thinking it’s something akin to objectifying the other person, they become a little less real, the barrier between you and sincere connection is gone, they become just an actor and so do you.

Get your sleep diet together. Want to wake up victory-ready? Go to sleep like a champ. People treat sleep like it’s this wonderful luxury and yet they piss it away all day. Oh you love sleep, you want more of it? Then go the fuck to bed. Properly. I know you think you’re busy, you’re not, you’re just cramming distractions into your brain 21 hours a day. You’re desperately trying to fight off sleep like it’s down time when all you’re doing is looking at your phone with netflix rolling in the background. You think that’s up time, you think that’s life? Sleep is up time, sleep is how you nurture yourself. Prepare for sleep like you’re a sleep athlete, have your pre game ritual on lock. Hot bath, cup of the same tea, low warm lights, read, relax, give yourself time to think before you turn the lights off and stare at the clock and get mad that your mind is keeping you awake. You shut your mind out all day, of course it wants to go for a run when it gets the chance.

The paradox of all this drill sergeant I’m laying on you is you just have to think what does a happy person do and then do it without expecting or even hoping that it’ll make you happy. You have to go in just to see what happens, just to put things under your control. When you do get your life even somewhat together, when you take away the misery, you’re going to feel a different kind of lost. Because you didn’t know misery was your guideline all this time and now the world is a lot more open and you don’t know where to aim yourself.

And if you find yourself thinking well I don’t want to do all that just to be close to happy, for happiness to always be a work in progress and ultimately unachievable, well tough, this is combat and in combat you don’t get to pick the enemy. When you say I don’t want to do this or that to combat depression what you’re saying is I don’t want to have depression. But you don’t get any exception for it being unfair. Of course it’s unfair, but you know what everyone and everything else in the world does when something unfair happens to you? They say good, glad it’s not me, and they race ahead of you as they deal with their own shit. No one can balance the scales except you. Depression doesn’t excuse you from life, it heaps a little more life on your plate that you have to fuck with. If you’re legs are shorter you gotta run faster, emotionally speaking. And occasionally instead of looking at a happy person and thinking what would I do if I were them, look at a schizophrenic person and ask what would they do if they were me?

Posted in Depression & Suicide

In training vs in combat

I started of thinking of all life as a test and it made me a much calmer person.

If a test goes exactly as you expect then it wasn’t really a test, it was just a transaction. Expecting things to go according to plan just upsets you when life happens, expecting to be tested changes that.

So what do you do for an upcoming test? You study, you train.

Now sometimes in training you’ll be able to pause when someone else fucks up. When you did everything right and Terry dropped the ball you can call time out and make Terry feel like shit. In combat however that will not work. If in combat Terry fucks up and you try to call time the enemy will take the opportunity to slaughter you. With machetes. Do you want to get hacked up by machetes, probably not.

Therefore in training you have to train for combat, you have to train for the chance that Terry fucks up, you have to know how you’ll recover. There’s no sense training for a time when everything goes right, you gotta train for when everything goes wrong.

Life’s not about in study vs in test, in training vs in combat, it’s about expecting to be tested, it’s about training for combat. It’s all one thing. Training is combat and combat is training. You don’t train to run 10k by running a bunch of 5ks, you run a couple 12ks.

At work, when something goes wrong and people start getting angry I show them that I’m glad, this is another opportunity to show how great we are, to show that we can think on our feet, that we can thrive no matter what.

I think a lot about what I’d say to my younger self if I could and right now I’d want to tell myself that because I hated being tested or pushed by other people so much shouldn’t have meant that I shut down, it should have meant that I pushed and tested myself. It’s taken me this long to change the urge to tell people to fuck off for even saying they’re proud of me.

It’s paradoxical that as I live this directionless life I’m training harder than ever. I’m training because I will be tested and I’ll only know what the tests are because I’ve trained.

To use running as a metaphor, there’s a lot of people who train for a 10k by running a bunch of 5ks then running ‘for real’ and pushing themselves to 10k. I say you don’t train to run 10k by running a bunch of 5ks, you run a couple 12ks. And then you think of that 10k race as training for a 20k.

In life you have to push yourself everyday as preparation for the next day. Everyone thinks they can be a hero if called on by circumstance but you know what the reality is? Most people fuck up even dialing 911 because they’ve never practiced it, in the panic they dial 311.

Crisis doesn’t bring out the best in people who haven’t already sought to bring out the best in themselves.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Don’t rely on subtext

In songwriting I learned to start with the point. I’d think what do I want this song to be about in one sentence(?) and then I’d make that sentence the opening line. It caused me to build outward and explore the point rather than try to build up to it in some natural seeming way.

I unconsciously started doing the same thing in conversation. I quickly scan through what I want to say, ask myself why I want to say it, and then I say that instead.

As an extreme example to make this obvious: rather than say get off my back I’ll ask where the urge to say that is coming from and I’ll say I feel like you’re being harsh right now, that will steer the conversation to why or why not they’re being harsh and it’ll be more productive than just pushing back, especially if they didn’t intend to be harsh in the first place.

Let’s go to a different example. A man invites a woman he knows in a professional context over to his house at night. She worries it might be a date. So she says I’ll drive over, hoping that saying drive will convey that she’s not drinking and therefore it isn’t a romantic situation. Then he assaults her. Because he’s Jian Ghomeshi.

It’s in Kevin Donovan’s book Secret Life on the Ghomeshi investigation. And from the texts before to when she’s in his house, to after the assault, she tries to communicate through subtext.

When she’s leaving his house Ghomeshi tells her to text him so he knows she got home safe, which is a creepified irony I can’t cope with, and on the witness stand later she gets grilled on why she texted him later. She texted him the word home when she got home and on the stand she tried to extrapolate that she’s a really chatty person in text and it was actually quite terse for her. The defense thanked her for testimony.

Now I know, blah blah victim blaming and all that and once someone is a victim no one can mention anything they did or didn’t do or should or shouldn’t do without being accused of excusing the attacker. I’m not. Ghomeshi should have not been a piece of shit and should have acknowledge the ques she was giving out. But I feel like it’s really unlikely a rapist is looking for ways to improve himself whereas I feel like we’re all looking for ways to avoid situations where we might get Ghomeshi’d.

I honestly can’t tell if I’m being too flippant for a public conversation but let’s power on.

Let’s look at the conversation.

Him: Come over to my house at night for some wine.

Her: I’ll drive over.

Now, what he means is I’m planning to assault you and what he hears in reply is I’ll get there as quickly as possible by driving.

What she hears is here’s an opportunity to showcase the bands you represent to a powerful media personality but it’s a little creepy and unprofessional so she thinks I know, I’ll mention that I’m driving then he’ll know I’m not planning on drinking and therefore it can’t be a date and that will put a band-aid on the creep factor and spare everybody’s feelings.

Of course, Ghomeshi would have assaulted her no matter what she said, he’s the only person in the wrong and it’s a shame the way the courts and the public treat victims like they have to have perfect forward-thinking hindsight before, during, and after being victimized, and they have to have a perfect memory, and they have to have been a saint their whole life. Hell, it’s a shame we live in a culture where a woman felt she had to go into a situation she had a bad vibe about because being a career opportunist is lauded and seeming ‘uptight’ is such a sin.  I get it, it’s awful. I’m not judging, I’m teaching from example.

If she’d been perfectly clear about her feelings before hand, if she had texted I’m tempted to come over because you’re an influential media personality and I’d love to show you the bands I represent but the fact that the suggested meeting is at your house, at night, alone, and you’ve already mentioned wine is makes me feel like I’d have to navigate an unprofessional, possibly romantic situation to do so. Maybe she’d have still ended up over there because Jian would have charmed, lied, and manipulated to get what he wants. And maybe she still would have gotten chewed up on the witness stand by his lawyers. But maybe, if there’s anything that could mitigate the shittiness of a situation like this, she wouldn’t have spent years being confused, shaming herself, wishing she’d said or done things differently.

Mark Twain said telling the truth means never having to remember what you said. I find that telling the truth means never regretting what you said. If you lie, or if you’re just vague subtextual and hopeful, you can always look back with regret (from the witness stand or not) wishing you’d said something else, some different lie or wishing you’d been direct. In everything I’ve lost by telling the truth I’ve never felt regret, I’ve never wished I’d kept something buried.

And I’ll quote another wise old man, Michael Cain as Alfred: Maybe we should stop trying to outsmart the truth. Relying on subtext, suggestion, impression, hoping to get two outcomes in a situation, is thinking you’re so clever you can game reality. Thinking you can make an unprofessional situation professional, you can let someone down easy, you can motivate someone you think is lazy, with the subtle genius of your wordsmithing is just building a house of cards that reality will torch. Because other people exist too, they have drives that you’re not acknowledging, that you’re pushing underground to grow, when you try to be subtle.

Social situations don’t have to be a chess game where you can’t see each other’s pieces. If you show yours, people will usually show theirs. And often you’ll each find you had pieces you didn’t know were in play and you’ll grow from the sharing.

Or if someone isn’t willing to do that it’s a red-flag that they’re a rapist.

Posted in Gender, Pop Culture, Pragmatism

Pre and post float

I’m getting ready for another float.

I wanted to write in my paper-and-pen journal beforehand to focus on the things I want to come from the float but I gave myself a hectic unproductive morning of trying harder and harder to recover from a hangover and was almost late. Actually I was perfectly on time by being 15 minutes early but that’s because I didn’t do anything I said I would and I’m still in the rush rush mindset.

I need to clear my head before I clear my head sometimes.

I have a lot to think about. When I heard Mandi on the radio last week my first thought was I need to go float about this.

Which might not be a great impulse. I wouldn’t want to lose my ability to work through things. I don’t want to become dependent on floating to have insights. I don’t want to be compartmentalized into postponing thinking until I can float.

Anyway. I want to think about forgiving Mandi completely, forgiving myself for the way I was then, I want to want her to be happy. If I can forgive Pip, I can forgive anyone. I always disliked him, I always resented him, when he betrayed me and caused my other so called friends to betray me the silver lining was that it was a great opportunity to openly hate him.

In my first float I was able to let go of that hatred, of all of my hatred, I thought of everyone I could that I hated and found miraculously that I was able to forgive them and wish them happiness and be lifted by that.

I forgot about Mandi completely.

Even writing about her causes me worry about my current relationship and that’s another thing I need to think about.

In all my fiery, type-A, power house, focused mindset lately I’ve lost my gentle loving self with Olivia. I’m being the person I want to be on my own time but not being the boyfriend I want to be or that I want her to have.

And I’m not willing to use the tactics that have worked elsewhere. I’ve built great relationships at work and in life using Jocko style leadership but I’m uneasy using those skills to build a romantic relationship.

Because love shouldn’t be about leading, it shouldn’t be about getting results –

I’m being summoned into the tank…

Post float

I got everything I wanted for sure. I thought about Mandi and her radio show and I was easily, instantly, able to feel that I wanted her to have success and a long, great career.

I realize that not wanting others to be happy is just relativism, it’s just comparison. Thinking that if someone else is happy because they got what they want then I must not be happy, or as happy, or as worthy, because I’m not getting what I want.

My first feelings when I heard Mandi on the radio were that I suddenly wasn’t good enough again. Like all the growth and change I’ve gone through wouldn’t be enough in comparison to her and to who I was then.

My friend Curtis said something similar a long time ago when he was in a phase of giving up on music. He looked me up hoping I’d given up too and hated himself because I hadn’t. I understood then and we laughed but I fully get it now. If no one gets what they want it’s okay to make-do and be happy but if some people ‘win’ and some people don’t how can our happiness be ‘real’?

Back to the float and the loving kindness I even thought about pip again. I thought there’s no reason I shouldn’t wish he has a great, successful band. Sure, I still think he’s a shit human being but I realized it’s just about ego and comparison. Not wanting someone else to be happy is just proof that you’re not happy. Getting your earthly desires isn’t the reward for being ethical, not having desires is.

I thought about how this all ties into where my suicidal urge comes from. I don’t have a problem with life, the way it is or the way it works, I just don’t want to be a part of it.

As I floated there easily thinking about happiness for anyone and everyone I tried to think about my own. I tried to wish for happiness for Alastair Robertson and nothing really came up.

I realize I’m kind of embarrassed to be happy, that’s part of why I need alone time. Because if someone else sees me happy I’ll suddenly feel that it has to be justified.

I see that I hold others to that standard as well, I often ask people to justify their happiness. Partly because I think it isn’t real but also maybe because I’m looking for an answer to not be embarrassed about my own happiness when I feel it. Most people act proud to be happy, annoyingly proud.

It’s strange that I don’t even know what the symptoms of my own happiness would be.

I’m happy these days but it’s not the happiness I’d wish for. Does that make me less than happy?

if unhappiness comes from desire then I’m doing really good at desiring nothing, all I want in a normal day is to work out and to read. This life is good but it’s not the life of the happiest self I envision.

I had a similar thought in my first float about someone else, someone who wants to be a mom and I think never will be and certainly wouldn’t be happy as she wishes if she became one. I didn’t find comfort wishing for the ideal and I didn’t find comfort wishing for any second option either.

Post Post Float

So that was all written a week ago. First in the lounge at Float Life and then pouring the thoughts out after while getting coffee and walking and stuff. I’ve tried to write after every float and it’s always a jumbled mess. It’s like writing on drugs, you have these big realizations that come out in slogans and sentence fragments and when you try to expand or explain the confusion comes back. Even trying over the course of this week to clean up that section it still feels insufficient.

Posted in Uncategorized