Jun 13 2016
In the shadow of the horrible tragedy in Orlando Sunday morning, Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the hit musical Hamilton) delivered a passionate sonnet as part of his acceptance speech for Best Score. At its climax he pleads “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”
If there is any truth and hope to be found in the world, it is this. If anything will ever change the horror and sadness in the world it is this.
Hold on to love. Do not let it go.
Let hate go as it will only prevent you from loving.
There is nothing bigger than love.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/love-is-love-is-love-is-love-is-love/
Jun 08 2016
The rise of digital music and streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music has been great in many ways. It is easier than ever to get music and discover music. It does have its downsides as well though. One of the of these downsides is the rarity of the “album artist” in today’s music business. It simply is a rare art form in the current business of single track downloads.
I’ve been a big Radiohead fan since I first saw the video for Creep on MTV all those years ago. I’ve listened as they’ve matured as a band and risen to be one of the biggest rock bands in the world. One thing I think they do better than pretty much any other contemporary rock band (especially of their prominence) is the careful thought and makeup of each individual album (with a couple of exceptions). There are great individual singles on each Radiohead album, but there is clearly a lot of thought put into the placement of songs on each album. This is what makes Radiohead’s best albums great.
A Moon Shaped Pool is no exception to this idea. This being Radiohead there is no single theme to the album and even those identifiable themes are inexplicably entwined. Whatever the theme you relate to in each of these songs, this is an album of someone who has been broken open. The tragedy of politics, environment, and personal life have cut open a sense of trauma, heartache, and drained acceptance of the invading doom.
The theme of heartache that flows through the album, largely inspired by Thom Yorke’s separation from his partner of 23 years (and mother of their two children). Unlike Björk’s Vulnicura, where the songs were largely written while the separation/divorce was building up, happening, and resolving; A Moon Shaped Pool includes songs that were written years earlier, however the specific placement of these songs on the album is what makes them even more interesting. In this context, these earlier slices of heartache show slivers of the troubles that will lead to the separation.
With current circumstances in my life, the heartache in the album resonates with me deeply. It begins on the second track, Daydreaming. The dreamer has past the point of no return and the damage has been done. He is lost wandering the world no longer connected to anyone (especially as depicted in the video for the song). As the song concludes you have a chant that sounds like nonsense, but is actually Thom referring to his relationship having been “Half My Life,” slowed down and played in reverse.
In the next track, Decks Dark, the themes of environment and heartache are entwined. Something is blocking out our vision…our happiness. We can no longer resist the darkness that has taken over. There is an element of surprise in his reaction to what is happening inside of him. He sings ““You gotta be kidding me, the grass grows over me,” signifying a death of sorts. Is it a death of the love for his former partner? A death of self? A death of the environment?
Desert Island Disk, we get a focus on light and the color white. These images are also sprinkled throughout the album (again first really showing up in Daydreaming). There is a sense of erasing and rebirth in these images that are reflected in both the music, and how the band went about preparing to release the album. Before the album release, they “erased” their entire online presence…website & social media accounts…and started over with the album release. By erasing we can be reborn.
Next we get one of the older songs, Ful Stop (it was performed on tour in 2012), that is making its album debut. This is one of those songs where you can see those earlier slices of heartache but its placement on the album is spot on. Things are messed up and now even the truth is hard to believe. Were the good times actually good times…or do we just want to believe they were? These questions that have no real answers can cause us to be trapped in the full stop (a period), the ending of a sentence (relationship).
Anxiety and alienation (another common theme in Radiohead’s music), are the primary themes in Glass Eyes. Now that the truth has been shattered, we are left as an anxious and alienated mess. We want someone to tell us we are great but instead we just feel small and alone. We are constantly on the verge of tears. So we retreat to nature, to escape the overwhelming pressure of the city. All we want to do is escape.
Perhaps my favorite of the “heartbreak” songs, Identikit, another first appearing during that 2012 tour:
Identikit: A picture of a person, reconstructed from strips showing facial features selected to match witnesses’ descriptions; used by the police to build a likeness of a person sought for a crime. A heart is broken, tears flow, and love becomes doubt. We are left to reconstruct that person, that love, that life. This song links back to Ful Stop (and was often played together on that tour in 2012). “Truth will mess you up” in Ful Stop, “I don’t wanna know” in Identikit. The truth could hurt and break you. This is the climax of the heartache theme on the album. There is nothing left.
While not specifically dealing with heartbreak, but the aftermath of the ending of a relationship, is Present Tense. This is another older song, having been played as early as 2009. The lyrics are abstract enough to cover both that time when you know the relationship is falling apart, but also that time after the relationship when you talk to the person again. The awkward interactions, the remnants of love and being lost in each other. How we question the relationship and if we did enough, if it was all in vain, if it was worth it at all. By the end you cannot escape the present tense, finding yourself outside of that full stop earlier in the album.
The album concludes with the oldest track on the album (and most eagerly awaited of unreleased studio tracks), True Love Waits. This song was first played in 1995 and has existed in various live versions over the years. This version is stripped back to just Thom’s vocals and two piano tracks. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. Both sad and hopeful at the same time. I honestly can’t decide whether it’s a hopeful end to the album (and the survival of the dreamer) or the final expression of having that dream broken for good. I do know that it makes me want to hug someone I love (friend, family, or lover) in that 20 seconds after the music fades out before the track itself ends.
I’ve talked a lot about the lyrical content of the album, but it would be amiss to not mention the effect of the musical arrangements led by the musical direction of Jonny Greenwood. The addition of the London Contemporary Orchestra adds layers to digest over many of these songs. Like many of the movie scores that Jonny has scored recently, the music is a voice/character of its own. It commands as much attention as the lyrics themselves.
I’ve skipped over three tracks, the opening track Burn the Witch, The Numbers (between Identikit and Present Tense), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief (between Present Tense and True Love Waits). These songs deal more with the themes of political and environmental anxiety and alienation. They are entwined with the brokenness of the world and life, but focus less on the specific personal heartbreak that sticks to me at the moment. Even then, I think they are very purposefully placed in the context of the entire album.
My friend Elizabeth had a great observation as we were discussing the album: “I actually think the whole production is sort of like a reversible shirt. It’s meant to go both ways. The infinity sign of time. He is always walking toward and away from this relationship.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/a-moon-shaped-pool/
Jun 03 2016
The title of Björk’s album (released at the beginning of 2015) is a mashup of two latin nouns (Vulnus + Cura) and roughly translates to “Cure for Wounds.” This album has been a constant in my musical rotation since I realized in April that my marriage was in real danger of failing (which it of course eventually did). The album was written during the breakup of her marriage and is devastating and beautiful all at the same time. Each of the first six tracks are accompanied by a timeline in the liner notes. Tracks 1 – 3 being before the breakup and 4 – 6 being after the break up. The last three tracks offer a sense of hope and healing…but it is not the Hollywood kind of ending. There is still an intense vulnerability in the healing presented in these tracks. These include older tracks but still very much fit in with the overall arc of the album.
Here is the track that really sticks with me at the moment:
At times, I think I’m here alongside her (this is “11 months after” and track 6). Other times its clear that I’m not there as well. I guess that’s to be expected. In reality its only 1 month after. There are probably still many more of the feelings in Black Lake that I’m still feeling (“2 months after” and track 4):
Last night I was overcome with sadness. I was thinking about the good times A and I had. The first times we hung out where I introduced her to Cafe Corsa and Skylight Books in LA (which she insisted were dates and I insisted were just friends meeting). I was thinking about all the fun road trips we have taken. Trips to Big Sur, the redwoods on the Northern California coast, camping at Wallowa Lake in NE Oregon, trips to Vancouver BC. It is these memories that I want to hold close to my heart and cherish. For all the things that ended up going wrong in our relationship, there was plenty of happy times. These are the memories I will keep with my heart.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/vulnicura/
Jun 02 2016
“It is odd to me that more songs aren’t specifically written about divorce, considering how painfully common the event has become. In this particular case, the idea for the song came along as a yodel, which I have no explanation for, except that I am a sucker for a sad song presented in a relatively bright or conversational way,” – Seth Avett in an interview with the Huffington Post.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/divorce-separation-blues/
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/data-visualization-nerdery/
Jun 01 2016
This article from the Atlantic popped up in my Facebook feed earlier this week: Masters of Love.
It covers some of the research by social scientists relating to the success of marriages in response to rising divorce rates beginning in the 70s. In the first section of the article, the research of Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson is reviewed. In their study they brought newlyweds into the lab and observed how they interacted with each other. They also hooked the couples up to electrodes to measure and record the body’s response to their interactions. Six years later, they brought the couples back in to see who was still together.
From their data, they grouped the couples into two groups the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years, while the disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy. In their observations of the disasters, the disasters looked cool and calm during the interviews, however the electrodes told a different story of what was going on physiologically. Their heart rates were quicker, sweat glands more active, and blood flow was faster. The data pointed to a conclusion that the more physiologically active a couple was, the quicker their relationship deteriorated. The masters had a lower physiological response and were able to maintain warm and affectionate behavior even when they fought. This helped create a climate of trust and intimacy that made both partners more emotionally and physically comfortable.
In a follow-up study, Gottman and Levenson set up a lab to look like a bed and breakfast retreat and invited 130 couples to spend a day at this retreat. In this study, they observed the couples go about what they would normally do on a vacation. In this study, an observation would come that be a key indicator on whether or not a relationship would thrive or languish. Throughout the day, partners would make “bids” for the others attention. “For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.” In this scenario, the wife can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband. These interactions had a profound effect on marital well-being. The couples who had divorced by the six-year follow-up had “turn toward” bids only 33 percent of the time. Those that were still happily married had “turn toward” bids 87 percent of the time.
One of my goals as I move through the process of my divorce is looking at ways that I can improve myself and the way I will interact with a future partner. There was a time in my relationship/marriage with A that I was definitely in the “turning away” camp. There was at least one stretch of time in our marriage that it might have been pushing it to get up to the 33 percent of time for “turning towards.” In that time, the seed was planted that would eventually lead towards the pending divorce. While I did make an effort to improve my moments of “turning towards” during and after a period of couples counseling last summer and fall, it was perhaps already too late even at that point. The seed had been sown.
The article goes on to talk about the habits the masters have. How they are looking for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. In doing this they build a culture of respect and appreciation. Disasters end up looking for their partners mistakes. This behavior ends up building a culture of contempt and ends up being the biggest factor that tears partners apart. They give their partner the cold shoulder – deliberately ignoring or responding minimally – thereby damaging the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and not valued. This ends up not only killing the love in the relationship, it makes it harder for the partner to fight off physical ailments (such as viruses). In this culture of contempt we miss around 50 percent of the positive things our partner is doing and see negativity that isn’t there.
This paragraph reflects where I most contributed to the downfall of my marriage. I was guilty of this for far too long, creating an environment where…while love may have still been there…its hold was tenuous. I had killed enough of it that fighting for what remained became difficult. Stepping outside of comfort zones to have difficult discussions took more energy then it should have. It was easier to let the feelings of contempt to control our thoughts instead of the hard work of focusing on kindness and generosity.
So as I look to heal from the trauma of divorce and eventually to opening myself up to a new relationship it is important that I take lessons like this to heart. I need to focus on being someone who “turns toward” those bids for attention from romantic interests, friends, and really just people in general. I don’t want to be someone who’s heart is ruled by contempt. Kindness and generosity sound like a better way to live life.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/the-science-of-happily-ever-after/
May 31 2016
A lot has happened over the last week. We found a new housemate and got her approved with the landlord. That was the number one task on my to-do list and a big weight off my shoulders. I’m excited for her to move in, she manages a nearby wine shop, and seems like a lot of fun. I think we’re going to have a pretty good house between the three of us there.
Over the long weekend, I had a friend visit from the Seattle area. She’s someone I’ve known since high school and is going through period of change and discovery of her own. It was nice to have late night conversations talking about life, love, and finding direction. She might not know it…but our conversations definitely gave me stuff to think about as I contemplate the next steps in my life. For me, one of the best things about her visit was just having someone over to continue the process of making memories in the house that belong just to me.
I’ve explored places to build new routines over the past week or so as well. I’ve rediscovered a coffee shop that will be a great option for weekend morning coffee outings. It opens early and is close enough that I actually even want to bike there (there are actually a few places in that neighborhood that I hope to spend some time at this summer). I started meal planning again this week. While I’m already off schedule because of a great BBQ with some of my soccer family, I had actually planned for that as well by not specifically planning things later in the week. It’s still going to take some getting used to planning meals for one (and especially improving my veggie intake) but I’m starting to return to normal.
I did buy myself a present over the weekend:
My current housemate has a similar hammock, and it looked so comfortable I just couldn’t pass up the great deal on Amazon when I saw it on Saturday. It arrived on Monday (yes Amazon has the USPS delivering on holidays now too) and I spent a good few hours reading and napping in it Monday afternoon. Its going to be great having it this summer, both for back yard relaxing, and hiking/camping.
So what’s next? Now that finding a housemate is behind me, my next goal is working on improving my job/career/financial situation. My current position is through a temporary agency and I am definitely underemployed in it. The company my assignment is at is also still trying to figure out its structure after being acquired last year. While there is a lot of confidence that the jobs will stay here in Portland, they could just as easily be absorbed by another site elsewhere in the US. Like most everything else in my life, I’m looking for stability (at least as much as possible), and I just don’t feel comfortable yet at my current assignment. I also need to find a position where I can get decent health insurance in my own name (as my current health insurance will go away at an as of yet unknown date). Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for. It’ll be something to concentrate on in counseling over the next few weeks.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/on-building-new-routines/
May 23 2016
On Thursday, it’ll be a month since A left. It would still be another week before she officially said she was done with our marriage, but when she left on the night of April 26th it was already over. So where am I in this journey a month into it?
I can honestly say, I’m doing ok now. The initial shock and anger has waned. As I’ve said over multiple posts, I am still grieving the loss of the companionship, plans, and dreams we had; however I’m no longer grieving the loss of her. Really the most frustrating part of this process is that she seems unwilling to participate in it. I guess it makes sense though, she made a decision to cut and run from our problems, why should completing our divorce separation be any different? In the end its only going to make the divorce cost us both more money and emotional energy. For someone who wants out so bad, it seems like an odd way to handle things.
As for me, I continue to work on the things I was already working on before the events of the past two months surfaced. I’m continuing to see a counselor to work my way through the feelings resulting from the collapse of my marriage. I’m at a point now however, that I’ll finally be able to work with him for some of the reasons I originally chose him. I’m working on figuring out ways to improve my career opportunities and financial stability (one of the things my counselor specializes in). I’m continuing to work on improving my general health as well. As I re-learn planning and cooking for one, I’m trying to be conscious of what I’m eating (and how much). With the month of reduced appetite due to the relationship stress, my body has gotten used to smaller portion sizes, and that’s not a bad thing.
I’m looking forward to what life has in store for me after all this is done. There is still a lot of work to do to get there and it’s still stressful. I’m going to come out of this a better person though. I have faith that when the time is right, I will find a new partner and it will be even more amazing because of the things I’ve learned from this relationship (both the good and bad). One question people have asked me recently is “Do you regret marrying A?” Despite how everything turned out, I do not. Based what I knew then, I have no regrets and would do it again with the same information. I loved her with my whole heart and I still do have love for her. I really do wish the best for her. Yes, she broke my heart. Yes, she left without even trying to make things work. But I loved her until the end. I will cherish the memories we had together. My marriage has made me a better person and it will make my next marriage or partnership all the better as a result.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/one-month-after/
May 20 2016
It’s a strange thing, learning how to emotionally detach from a person. It’s like those weeds, where if you don’t get all the roots, it’ll just come back. Except you don’t want to pull the roots out at the same time. That would be too painful for the soil that is your heart. That is what I find myself doing this week though. Learning how to let go. Pulling out those remaining roots that didn’t come out originally. Resisting the urge to try to find scraps of her new life online.
This week I’ve been letting go…of A…of anger…of partnered life. Some of it has been easier than others. Letting go of the anger and of her has been easier than letting go of partnered life. I struggled being alone at home this week (with the exception of last night, I was home this week). But I forced myself to live in it. I could have run over to a friend’s house one of those nights but I need to relearn how to be ok in that space. I’ve got a ways to go in that department. It’s tough to erase five years of shared space overnight.
I’ve been obsessively refreshing social media this week. Craving connections to try to fill the vacant space A once occupied. Looking for people to chat with on Hangouts or Facebook. Hoping to fill time with a friendly conversation or even just reading their tweets/posts/pictures. There are all these things that I want to share with someone. Stupid stuff mainly…stuff you only share with a partner. I hear things that my first instinct is “I can’t wait to tell A about this.” Those are roots that remain inside me. Those stubborn roots that just won’t let go. Those things I won’t share with anyone else and now not with her either.
One thing I really want is for friends to come over. For some of my closest friends, this is hard as they are tied to their own homes because of kids, pets, or lack of easy transportation. I understand this and I don’t have any negative feelings towards them about it. I just want to take back my house for me. Have folks over for a game night. Host a fancy cider tasting night (I’ve got a bunch of limited edition small batch ciders from a local cidery). Create memories that make this space mine (well along with my other housemates).
I worry (and get anxious) about being too needy for my friends (and other acquaintances) as I go through this process. They’ve been great, but I know it can be hard to have to listen to the same sad stuff all the time. I try to be mindful of that though. To make sure I’m engaging in what is going on in their lives (and I really do want to know what is going on in their lives) and not just focusing on my divorce and how I’m working through it. I’ve got friends who are out of work and struggling with their job searches. I’ve got a friend struggling with a recent move (and a job search). Its important for me to listen as well.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/letting-go/
May 18 2016
found via PostSecret FB:
This is something I’m having to figure out again. Eight years in a relationship. Five years of living together. Done in what seems like an instant. I was talking to my mom last night and I told her “in a way, its like A died, at least in regards to me.” Only it might be more difficult than if she had died, because she’s still around. I could easily run into her (especially since she moved somewhere right next to where I am often). I imagine she’ll do everything she can to avoid me if she sees me based on how she’s acted since she left, but the possibility is there nonetheless.
I’ve been alone before. Its ok to be alone. Its just something I have to get used to again for now.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2016/how-to-be-alone/