I’ve just read something completely transformative in terms of how to deal with what might be at first glance negative situations. Rick Hanson describes an internal set of triggers that lead to negative cascades (and how to overcome this problem). For example, imagine that you’re home cooking dinner for you and your partner. Earlier in the day, you asked your partner to stop off at the store for some milk which you need to make dinner. While cooking, your partner comes home having forgotten the milk that you asked them to pick up. Hanson describes four stages ranging from war to peace. In Stage 1, you would be caught up in thoughts and dialogue that stresses how the situation of making dinner has been inconvenienced leading to negative communication between you and your partner (how could they have forgotten such a simple task – now what are we supposed to do?!). In Stage 2, you realize that you’ve succumbed to this negative feedback loop and remain persistently annoyed at your partner having forgotten (and perhaps even at their reaction to your own outrage). In Stage 3, you might feel irritated at your partner having forgotten the milk, but you don’t act out knowing that getting cranky will only make things worse. In Stage 4, a negative reaction doesn’t even come up: you understand that there is no milk and calmly figure out what to do next. Ideally, in my own view, you would respond in a way that acknowledges that your partner forgot the milk and present them (and yourself) with options. You say, “Well we need milk to make this meal, so we either need to get some or we need to make something else. What should we do?” Suddenly the irritation has been taken out of the equation, and we’ve constructed an opportunity to 1) be compassionate toward our partner who forgot something and is probably feeling bad about having done so already, 2) collaborate together toward a solution, and 3) given them an opportunity to be compassionate and helpful in return. So, yeah. I’m ALL about Stage 4.
Hanson, Rick, and Richard Mendius. “The First and Second Dart.” Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009. 49-63. Print.
A Roadtrip, a Concert, and a Surprise
There’s nothing unusual about friendships that fade over time. Years begin to break the bonds between friends from high school: college, jobs, spouses, and new families all find ways to carve paths that lead us away from each other, and with this I am reminded of Don Henley and how he sings that the days of summer are out of reach: you can never go back. But you can remember.
That is how we spent the drive up from Selma to San Francisco to see Dream Theater. For the four of us, seeing Dream Theater was nothing new. This was my fifth time seeing them live, and I believe the others who, with me, completed the lineup for Selma sensation [punk?] rock band Jimmyrigg (yes, one word—we were very particular about that) had all seen Dream Theater at least twice as well. What was new, however, was all of us seeing Dream Theater together. Thirteen years after the days of Jimmyrigg, with me being the most out of touch with the group during that time, you can bet that the drive could be characterized by nothing but nostalgia-induced laughter. We were high from the funny-pheromones before we even hit the Bay Bridge. We were the boys of summer once again, and the night was only about to begin.
Only a Matter of Time
Dream Theater is one of those bands that can do [almost] no wrong in my eyes. My parents can vouch for me here when I say that I had listened to them almost every day of my life throughout my teens. If the album Images and Words wasn’t in my CD player, Awake was. I am one of those fans who have supported the various personnel changes throughout the band’s life. I am also one who has supported personnel that hasn’t changed—the voice of the band—James LaBrie. The story of this voice is one that is well documented (and hotly debated by supporters and haters) on the Internet, so details on that here would be redundant; however, I will write (with as little bias as possible) that the overall arch of James’ story has come full circle. When he began with Dream Theater during the recording of Images and Words back in ’91, his was one of the most impressive and expressive voices to hit the rock scene, and that momentum carried through Awake, LaBrie’s second album with the band. Listen for yourself in his 1992 performance of “Another Day”:
Unfortunately, accidents and tragedies have a way of taking musicians away from their art right in their prime. From dreamtheater.wikia.com, I quote:
Sometime in 1994 shortly after the recording of Awake, while vacationing in Cuba, Labrie caught food poisoning from some bad shellfish, the constant vomiting causing him to rupture his vocal chords. LaBrie sought out many vocal coaches, doctors and experts who all said there was nothing that could be done other than to rest his voice as much as possible for at least a year. However, LaBrie went against these wishes to tour with Dream Theater, further damaging his voice, leading to a live career that is notably spotty.
LaBrie claimed his voice did not feel normal until 1997, though he injured his voice again in 2000, almost completely destroying it. It was at this point that he fell into depression and suffered some weight gain, and his performances suffered, with inconsistencies in both his vocal performance and frontman abilities leading Portnoy and Petrucci to consider replacing him. After a "wake up call" confrontation, LaBrie focused his energy on improvement, seeking out a new vocal coach and starting a regimen of diet and exercise, which improved both his physique and vocal abilities. By 2004, LaBrie’s voice was stronger than ever and has remained so since then.
In my eyes, it’s difficult not to steal a show with a success story like this. A look at any recent footage of Dream Theater will immediately reveal that James absolutely owns his performance, and the voice that we all thought we had lost is back. It was a spectacular performance by Dream Theater as a whole, and it was all underscored by this win.
Lifting Shadows off a Dream
There is a story I enjoy telling all of my friends, how when first seeing Dream Theater back in ’99, my buddies and I (three of four from the aforementioned “boys of summer” Jimmyrigg, in fact) were shocked to see both John Petrucci and John Myung step out of a taxi right in front of the venue, the Maritime Hall as I recall. We found out that arriving six hours before the doors opened definitely had advantages other than having slightly better odds of finding good general admission positions near the stage. As if being able to say hi to our guitar heroes wasn’t enough, James LaBrie does the exact same thing a half hour later. They were all more than happy to take a few minutes to say hello and sign a few autographs. I can’t explain why, but I have a thing about autographs: I never ask for one. I find that I am always content with shaking hands and saying “thanks for the music.” We were bound to make this, or at least something like it, happen again.
After perhaps the best live performance of Dream Theater I’ve witnessed and being reunited with my old friends, there was definitely something electric in the air after walking out of the Warfield Theater. Three of us decided to wait around near the buses, and after watching techs and roadies stow away gear for an hour, I caught a man with a long black pony tail and grizzly arms walking down the sidewalk between the busses and the Warfield. “There’s John Petrucci guys, and he’s walking the wrong way!” There was a brief moment of panic, then as nonchalantly as a giddy man reliving his childhood dreams could be, I lead the way around the barricade to try and intercept him while he was signing and photographing with a fan who was smart (or lucky) enough to be waiting by the right tour bus. We were greeted with nothing but grins and appreciation despite copious amounts of fumes from bus exhaust.
It wasn’t much longer than half an hour later when the rest of the band emerged from the theater, and our small, motley group of die heard fans who braved San Fran’s finest panhandlers were likewise greeted by James LaBrie, Mike Mangini, and John Myung with such graciousness and appreciation that make the night such a highlight that it will never be forgotten.
It’s so easy to fall into the routine of defining oneself in terms of what’s missing from life. In some of those moments, where I struggle to convert loneliness into solitude, the tranquil restoration of dreams flowing alongside my footsteps grounds me. When the realization comes that I have been given such a rare opportunity to pursue the dream of having an intellectual life, solitude is the victor of loneliness, and I see life not as a manifest of what isn’t or won’t be but as a collection of what is and what will be. Thank you to my family, friends, and especially my parents for their ongoing support and encouragement, and thank you to my professors for continuing to kindle the ember that glows within my peers and me. Here’s to walking the path and stopping to look at what’s there along the way.
from “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by Wordsworth
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love… (26-36)
I came across a Tweet from one of my Internet/celebrity crushes earlier this afternoon. Felicia Day said “Happy NYE all! Make sure to write down things you’re proud of from 2011! Brings in the new year on a positive note :)”
This has been a year full of excessive challenges for me, and as of yesterday, I was ready to write this off as quite possibly one of the worst years of my life. However, when I really started to think about it, Felicia is right. When you focus on the positive, the negatives of bereavement, loneliness, rejection, being stood up more times than I can count, being dumped, all do not seem quite so bad. Among the difficult times and the perceived fails, here are some of my wins for 2011:
- I started a blog.
- I paid all of my bills on time.
- I was never charged any overdraft or late fees from banks or credit cards.
- I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain any either.
- I worked two jobs while going to a state university and got a promotion at one of them.
- I took eight classes at a state university, and I received As in all of them.
- I drummed in a band with friends in front of an audience for the first time in a few years.
- I made at least one coworker laugh almost every day of work.
- I read more books in a single year than ever before.
- I continued to learn a new language.
- I had a poem published in a nationally circulated literary magazine.
- I was invited to discuss that poem at two community college English classes.
- I helped some of my family members stay connected during difficult times.
- I get to celebrate 31 years of being 100% drug free.
- I demystified some of my family history with my nana and even got to share new discoveries with her before she passed away.
What are some of your wins for 2011?
I finally had a chance to participate in an Occupy event, and I have footage from the whole thing. This clip, for example, is of Professor John Beynon’s narrative on why student activism is important for education along with personal and national livelihood:
“Manners are just for old people,” I recently heard a teenage girl say. Her mother shot back at her quickly in a serious tone, “They absolutely are not!” I observed this trend, stereotype, call it what you will, long before I heard this short conversation; but since then, I have been compelled to look upon the teens and twenty-somethings of the new millennium critically. This girl, to my eye, is a far cry from being considered anything remotely close to rude, but does the lack of outward rudeness constitute politeness today?
In a world where people regularly exchange rude looks and vulgar shouts to one another on the road, where the grocery store clerk doesn’t even say a word to you other than reading back the total on your bill—let alone make eye-contact, where predatory credit card companies soak up what little cash people have in the form of inflated interest rates, hidden fees, and past-due payments, I ask myself if any measurable amount of chivalry or, more simply, common civility is still regularly practiced by people at large.
Now when I say chivalry, I do not necessarily mean to bring about images of romanticized knights in shining armor coming to the aid of the fair maiden, or of Prince Charming lying down his coat in a puddle of mud so that his Cinderella can walk across with unscathed Uggs. In fact, the very notion that men should have to put themselves out in such a way for women could be viewed by either sex as gender stereotyping, which is a whole other issue.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
My concern is more about the little things—things that you thank someone for that you do not have to say “thank you” for, such as when a door is held open for you. Why is it so damn difficult to grant someone the pleasure of a few seconds’ eye-contact, a smile, and a sincere “thanks”?
I always make it a point to ask everyone, whom I engage with in conversation, how they’re doing. One of my absolute favorites is when they say “fine” or “good” and nothing more. Again, is it really that difficult to say, “fine, thanks for asking” or, better yet, “fine, how are you?” I certainly don’t expect to hear a synopsis of how the person’s entire day or week has gone, but the spoken language and body language of politeness go a long way toward making everyone’s day—both yours and others’—simply…better. Showing concern and care for your fellow man is part of the human condition. Don’t fail at the human condition. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”