Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'Lady Gaga Learns to Fish'

I was reading in some article online the other day that when people have a true psychotic episode, or have what used to be called a nervous breakdown, there is usually some event or conflict that creates a break, and it could be something really pretty trivial in the regular course of a particular day. It could be something as simple as spilling coffee at a convenient store, or as radical as getting in a car wreck. The reason I bring this up is not because I think I've had a psychotic episode, rather it's because I was thinking about it. No, not thinking about having one, but thinking what happens to people when they do have one. As I was thinking about this, the thought crept into what I call the main story of my thoughts in a parallel story, "Do people wake up in the morning and start thinking about psychotic episodes?"

John Nash of game theory and Nobel prize winning fame doesn't remember exactly when he had his, but he was also a diagnosed with schizophrenia, so it could have been a number of things. I was watching John Nash, (not Russell Crowe from the movie, A Beautiful Mind), but from actual documentary footage. The thing I noticed the most, was that in his seventies, he seemed so different from the brash and arrogant young genius, humbled by his affliction, and contemplating the future. He kept giving up curious looks on the camera, as if his thoughts were still running at hyper-speed. He says that he cured his own schizophrenia by refusing to talk to the voices that were constantly speaking to him and telling him what to do. If his wife, or ex-wife at the time, had not taken him in and treated him as he says, "Like a human being," there is no telling what would have happened to John Nash. When I saw the actual footage of him collecting his Nobel prize, I started blubbering like a baby. It was pretty moving. I was never a genius like John Nash, but I could relate to so many parts of his story. In fact, there are some days when I feel like the anti-genius, especially if I turn on lectures and listen to physicists talk about the universe as I have made a habit of doing recently, so much of it I don't understand at all, but for some reason, I get so stimulated that my palms and fingers begin to sweat.

For the majority of John Nash's life, he was holed up in his ex-wife's house just trying to tell the voices he didn't want to converse, and of course, attempting to feed and clothe himself. Its so curious to try and understand how a person can be in that state for years, forgotten and lost by colleagues, family, and students, gradually working his way back to a state of sanity. And then he says, "Suddenly win the Nobel prize for something that I did forty years before." He seemed perplexed by this notion, moving his lips curiously, as if time had somehow reversed itself. I wonder if there is someone out there willing to pay me for thinking about John Nash all day long. I don't think so, and I don't have any game theory genius from my past that is suddenly going to win me the Nobel. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to win a five-dollar lotto ticket, I've never been lucky like that.

I have been lucky in one respect, and maybe this is the height of self-indulgent perspective, but the several breaks I've had in the last four years have given me the time to reflect and to think. For years, I had the fervor of delusions of grandeur thinking that led me into a path of wrestling with obstacles to the brink of exhaustion so frequently I thought that I could die at any moment, thinking and acting as if this was how one succeeded, by shear will and force of nature. Looking back, it is occurring to me that spinning the wheels in this fashion all becomes the past, and the present is me here writing this down, and the future, like John Nash says, "Cannot be calculated." I feel it in my hands the most these days, as if my hands attempted for years to wrestle all things into a malleable submission. Sometimes, I look at my hands, as I can feel the age in them, and remember just the sheer number of wood screws they have forced into wood. (I was never good at letting the tool do the work.) With all the screw-ups and partial successes in the last four years, today I am wondering just what in the hell I was thinking. But then it occurred to me, it wasn't the thinking, for I had lived this way the whole of my life, rather, it is the body, telling me that it just can't work and force nature the same way.

I do think, however, that I have made strides in the unbearable pressure of time weighing down on me. As if, like John Nash, if I can stay alive long enough, something will come back to me that will be worthy of me putting in the time. Like all things I've learned in this life, no one is going to magically call me up on the phone and say, "We need you to come and be a force of nature, and we will pay you to do this…" But I can still think, and I can on occasion, rise to the level of my previous experience. The other night, I was at a hotel in Tempe, Arizona playing music for people that were arriving at the hotel. I was on the patio of the free food spread, playing songs, sitting on a stool and trying to get my hands warmed up. Strangely, I had a captive audience, and being at a hotel is like being out of town, because you will never be playing for anyone you know, so you can be playing songs and relieving the experience of those songs without any distractions. If there are people paying attention, they can feel that, and you can bring something to them that they may perceive as being very different. I was playing songs that I wrote, and there are always a couple of them that get a great reaction, every time. When I was younger, I would have thought, "Okay, I need to get a recording of this song and get it to so and so, and then maybe this will happen…" Now, I find more and more I just sing because I like doing it. I have no game theory dreams of scoring a number one song. It's my experience just sharing it with someone else. I wonder if this is evolution or defeat? I think it is evolution, however, because I am learning how to bring the experience of the song into the present, without thought of the future or the past. It is satisfying, if not a little strange. The other thought that gives me some peace is just the ten thousand hours of mastery from the Malcom Gladwell book, 'Outliers'. Every hour put in song is closer to that number, and it occurred to me that I now have quite a few hours logged in, and I can feel that when I'm around other musicians or artists. The rhythm feels easier these days, the phrasing feels original, and the experience of walking into a strange place and setting up equipment to play music feels so familiar. And, there are so many times when I feel both my father and mother there in the mix, as if I have taken the best of both of them for those times.

I've also taken up dreaming, which I sometimes did before but not with the thought I put into it now. I finally had one of those wake up laughing dreams, the kind that come from time to time. This dream came about because I decided I needed to learn some songs that were contemporary, mostly to throw people off guard and maybe make them smile. I was going through some songs on utube, trying to find a song that would be interesting to cover. I listened to some Lady Gaga songs, and that night, I had a dream that I was at a lake. There were two people on the other side of the lake, and I watched a man walk around the lake to get to me. He said, "That woman over there is Lady Gaga, and she was wondering whether you would teach her how to catch a fish." I was surprised that Lady Gaga would want me to teach her how to catch a fish, but I went with the man to where the lady was fishing. She looked nothing like Lady Gaga, as she was in a flannel shirt and had red hair. I proceeded, however, to teach her how to fish. In a few minutes, she had a small fish on her line, and reeled it in. Needless to say, she was as excited about catching a fish as a small child, and as she brought the fish to shore she turned to me and said, "You can call me Ginger." That was it. That was the dream, and I woke up laughing. So, I guess I can say in the dream world, I taught Lady Gaga how to fish. I didn't put much thought into the meaning of the dream, rather, I kept it simple as a memory of the subconscious mind. But, I am learning one of her songs.

I still have many miles to go in my quest to feel better and get back on a horse of some kind, but I do know that gradually, my penchant for turning to the dark side is subsiding, and there is some hope for the future, even if I don't have any idea what it holds. Today, I am grateful for those people in my family and friends who still communicate with me on a daily basis and still believe in me. I read something about being on a train that heads into a tunnel the other day. When you enter into the tunnel, you don't suddenly rise and jump off the train, rather, sometimes you just have to think your way through the darkness. You can either accompany those thoughts with fear and more darkness, or you can remember what light feels and looks like, and have hope that the train will make it through the tunnel. There are many people who will abandon you in the tunnel, but if you make it through, you will have an understanding that you didn't have before, even of those who left you and forsook you. I'm optimistic, but I'm still in the tunnel, I can, however, see the light. Now if I could only feel it on my skin…


Gerry said...

I think most of us have a Lady Gaga in our lives who turns into just a plain Ginger, and that's it, we are living ordinary lives, but somehow we are finding happiness without being one of the two or three hundred or even three thousand famous people in the world. You have just stated a common man's philosophy very eloquently. You have made a few of your friends and your mother happy who was worried about her sister standing on the brink, watching her husband die. You have lifted us up when we needed lifting up. So you have earned your daily bread, sang for your supper, lit a candle in the wind.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with Gerry on this outstanding blog. Ann

Anonymous said...

Something has shifted here. Keep moving forward. Love you.