Thursday, August 1, 2019

The One Who Holds the Light

Some will remember that my husband, Dave, and I were in a near-fatal car accident in 2015.

We’ve been healing from it ever since. We’ve had to have so many subsequent surgeries to remove the metal hardware — so much pain — so many drugs — so much painful physical therapy — so many periods of detox. But even so, in between our many surgeries, my sweet husband has made it his mission to take me to as many concerts as we could manage. We have seen some amazing shows in the past three years. Earth, Wind & Fire (three times), Steely Dan (three times), Big Boi ft. Sleepy Brown, Gordon Lightfoot, The Eels, Shawn Colvin, Goblin, MGMT, Culture Club, Public Image Limited, Father John Misty, Joan Osborne, Lana Del Rey, Blondie, Aimee Mann, Belle and Sebastian, PJ Harvey, Flight of the Conchords, Joseph King and the Mad Crush, a David Bowie tribute concert, as well as a Hi, How Are You Project benefit concert. Love of art (all kinds — music, books, drawing, film, etc.) has been something that we have always shared, so it felt like we were getting back to doing things we cared about. It felt like we were on our way to healing from that horrific accident, and we thought the extended hardship was almost over.

But then, just as I was almost recovered from my latest hardware-removal surgery, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is not great. Even with radical and drastic surgery, we have been told that there is a strong chance that it will return. But we beat a lot of odds when we survived the accident, and we really think he’s going to beat these odds as well. He is being treated at a world-class facility that specializes in treating only cancer. We’ve been there a few times for a bunch of different appointments with a variety of specialists, and the one thing that becomes very clear when you go to a place like this is how many others are suffering, too. Not that we didn’t already know this. Both of our fathers passed away from cancer, and you don’t go through several rounds of surgeries and physical therapy without seeing that you are not alone in your traumatic experiences. The first day we arrived for our initial appointments, we ran into a woman in the elevator who had been told she had two years to live — that was 19 years ago. She was very cute and very kind, and spent some time talking to us and helping us get to where we were going in the building, and she gave us some great advice: “Just get through today,” she said. So that was something hopeful. Nowadays, cancer eventually touches almost every life on this planet in one way or another. We know that this is nothing special or new. But it seems particularly sad and awful because we just got to a point where we were feeling ready to move on from the horrors of the accident. But, as one doctor said, there is always hope. We have friends and family members that have survived cancer. Some lived much longer than they were told they would, and some are still going strong. These people are shining lights to us. So we do have hope. We always have hope. Hope is kind of our thing.

But I am devastated, and modern medicine can only do so much. So I will not allow his healing to be confined to that. After conventional science has given this their best shot, we are also going to go “off planet,” into other dimensions, in hopes of alternative remedies, or at least to reach some kind of peace if that is possible. This is something I’ve been researching for years (even since before the accident, strangely enough). I wish we had done some of these things earlier, but for reasons I don’t care to go into now, we have found ourselves in a situation where it is too late to take any chances with alternative therapies. So that will be later on, after he has healed from the surgery. For now, we are in the hands of experts within the conventional model of modern western cancer treatment, and we know he has the best team possible. 

Despite this being one of the worst times of our lives, we are looking towards the future. My husband is a kind and gentle soul, intelligent and passionate and optimistic. He has cared for me for more than half of my life. He is a much more advanced being than I, and has shown me unconditional love that I probably didn’t always deserve, but very much needed. He is soft-spoken and quiet, but hilarious, too. He is a sweet, romantic nurturer. If he was an animal, he would be a seahorse. He loves film and art, particularly the art of comic books. He probably has one of the best comic book collections on planet Earth. For real. All the good stuff. But he doesn’t have it just to have it. He appreciates the stories, the emotion, the drawing, the lettering. When we first met, he introduced me to Love and Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, which began my own love of comics. And not too long ago, he arranged for me to receive an original illustration by Gilbert Hernandez, of two Babosas intertwined in an embrace. My husband has some amazing friendships, and a son and grandson that seem like they are from another planet, because they are just so awesome. They are not mine officially, but I love them as if they were. And he has my family, and my friends, too. He is truly beloved by the people he works with, and they have been incredibly supportive through everything. So, even though we are pretty solitary, private people, it seems we have a loving community all around us, and that feels really, really good. All of this is giving him the strength he needs to get better.

Remarkably, my husband is not afraid of death — he has had some contact with it before. He almost drowned when he was 13. He was saved by a family friend, but he was under water for a while and had the beginnings of a near-death experience, and felt a peace and calm that he can still recall perfectly to this day. Conventional medicine calls this a “trick of the dying brain.” And while this is a possibility, we are not so sure that conventional medicine can be so certain about it. Especially since they have no real understanding of how the brain works and no real explanation for what consciousness even is. And in the minutes during and after the car accident, we both experienced some things that have made us feel much more aware of the true nature of consciousness and reality. Things that we are taught to view as paranormal or fantastical, but which are likely just part of the cosmos and the natural world. Things that ordinary science and medicine are barely, with a few exceptions, willing to acknowledge, research, or even discuss/consider. Things that, if everyone could see them, would put the powers that be out of business, and change the entire way we live. And it would for sure alter the way we practice medicine. I’ve always been aware of and comfortable with the mysteries in life, and I think it’s impossible to ever really know anything. But when you experience something first-hand, it is difficult to simply brush it away as a figment of your imagination. I only got a very small glimpse, and I’m working on finding a way to express that experience, but more investigation and learning is needed before I can adequately communicate it. But regardless of any of that, nothing takes away the sadness of seeing someone you love in pain, and nothing takes away the fear of losing someone you love. And while my husband isn’t afraid of death, he is afraid of suffering, and of leaving the people he cares about. So, after some deep soul-searching and consideration, he is going to go through with the surgery. He isn’t afraid of dying, but he absolutely wants to live. And we are determined that he (we) will crush this, and we will fight it with everything we have. 

And that brings me to another part of this… I have always wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I have “self-identified” as an “artist” from the time I was five — whatever that means! I used to draw a lot. It was how I dealt with, you know, my feelings. Art always felt very meaningful to me. I always loved music, but it didn’t occur to me that I could write my own songs until I was in high school. At that point, it felt like I had found the artistic medium that suited me best. I don’t think people have only one destiny or one path or purpose… but music felt natural to me, and at first it came to me in dreams. Then I learned enough piano to express it in the “real” world. But I kept it to myself for years — until I met my husband. We weren’t together back then, but we talked a lot about music, and while I was mostly into heavily-promoted major-label artists, he was delving deep into more obscure, raw, independent stuff. I probably had wider tastes than many, and I did dig for treasure in both new and used record shops of the day, but even so Dave introduced me to so much music that I was totally unfamiliar with — most notably, Daniel Johnston. This was back when “independent music” was just barely starting to be a thing and the internet hadn’t really gotten its wings yet. When I heard Daniel’s home-recorded tapes, it changed everything for me. I had always vaguely hoped to take some of my songs further than the confines of my own room, but I was not confident in my abilities, or at all clear on that process, and I also knew that I probably wouldn’t do well within the “industry” of music… I just felt pretty certain that I didn’t have the temperament for all that. But when I heard the music that Daniel made, with just a boombox tape recorder and a chord organ, and how the beauty and emotion came through, it made me start thinking about doing things on my own, in my own way. 

After Dave introduced me to Daniel’s music, I decided to make some very rough tapes of my songs and let him hear them. These were lower than lo-fi, just recorded on one of those dictation machines that students used to record class lectures back before digital technology. From that point on, he has completely encouraged me and my music. Dave has always said that music was/is what I was meant to do, and he has never once given up on me, or hinted that I should give up on music. That hasn’t always been easy, because both of us have worked regular jobs to make ends meet, and that takes a lot of time that could be spent making art. It is the perpetual struggle for anyone who attempts to exist outside the status quo and do the thing(s) their soul tells them to do. I have never found the levels of financial success with my music that many manage to achieve, but I’ve done okay at times. It is so easy to give up on your art when the world tells you it is frivolous if it isn’t making a lot of money. I’ve fallen prey to that kind of thinking more than I would like to admit. Sometimes I’ve worried that I’m just a fraudulent narcissist with nothing to offer. After all, if I was doing something of worth, wouldn’t I be more “successful”? I have had so many insecurities. I’m not a child prodigy, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not young enough, I don’t play well enough, my voice is not strong enough, I’m not social enough, I’ve never been able to make enough money to quit my “day jobs.” These kinds of thoughts have plagued me incessantly all throughout my life. But Dave has never allowed me to abandon my music. He has always understood that, for me, songwriting, at its core, has always been about trying to heal myself, about trying to deal with trauma and loss, and about expressing hope and love. It has always felt like it’s necessary to my survival, and like I was connecting to the cosmos. I’ve also often felt that the only time I’m really a good person is when I am writing a song — like I’m inhabiting a more whole version of myself that I’m usually not able to access. And even if only one person hears it, at least that person is someone who means everything to me.

But, in addition to encouraging me to keep making music, he also encouraged me to release it. It took a really long time, but eventually I built a little home studio and made some “real” recordings which I’ve released publicly and which many of you have heard. So, starting back in 1998, after I released Soul Poison, I began to hear from other people that the songs were affecting them. It began as a small trickle of little sparkling messages, but has steadily increased, and every time I receive one of these, I am so happy that someone has not only taken the time to really listen (which is a gift in itself), but that they also take the time to write to me. Over the years, I have received so many sweet letters from listeners who have said that my music has meant something to them, or helped them heal from some kind of loss. And sometimes, as an additional note of joy, that my music has inspired their own creative spirit in some way. It’s what I always wanted. Way more than anything more conventional or normal.

I’d been writing a lot of songs since my last official album way back in 2007 -- I just hadn’t been able to get it together enough to release anything. Things were economically and personally challenging. I was going through a period of extreme mourning and self-sabotage, and allowed myself to get overly consumed by the day job that I had at the time. But I felt compelled to stay there because I would not have had health coverage without it. But even then, my husband did not give up on my music. I was finally able to leave that job, after the Affordable Care Act passed, and I was able to afford health insurance through that program. I released a song on Bandcamp (“Not Sad”), thinking that it would be the beginning of a new project. A month later we were in the accident. And unfortunately, because I was “out of network” (AKA, on vacation) when the accident happened, Blue Cross Blue Shield did not cover any of my medical expenses. None of them. The other driver who caused the accident died at the scene and was uninsured, so there was no big settlement like all of those injury lawyers on TV promise. The bills totaled nearly a million dollars, and after countless letters of appeal to BCBS, I had to beg Stanford University Medical Center to write off my debt, because I could not have paid that back no matter how many lifetimes the multiverse gives me. Thankfully, they did. 

After the accident, I (we) received an amazing amount of love from listeners, expressed through emails and social media as well as old-school paper letters. For a lot of that time, I was in a fog of horrific amounts of medication, so a lot of it is a blur, but trust me that eventually I am going to go back and thank every single person who wrote to me. When Dave and I were still in the hospital, one of my earliest listeners (who had become a friend) lost his son. During that time, both my friend and I began to research the nature of consciousness, alternative healing and the cosmos, in earnest. We shared lists of documentaries with each other, and I felt even more expansion begin to happen. In some ways, we were on similar paths to discover the multiverse and our place within it, as well as the greater question of what happens to the spark that is in all of us when we leave this realm. Where do our loved ones go? In many ways I have been delving into these territories all of my life, but it became much more urgent at that point, and I went deep down the rabbit hole, but not deep enough (yet). And then when I went on Facebook after the accident, messages of love and hope poured in. I had no idea so many people cared about my music. Very recently, just as we are going through this difficult time, I received a letter from a woman who sews burial shrouds. And while she sews these beautiful creations for those who have passed on, and softens the pain for their loved ones, she listens to my music. How amazing. It made me feel like maybe I am doing something right even though I have made so many mistakes in life. It isn’t lost on me that both she and I may have a role to play in giving comfort in times of trouble  — like many artists, seekers and healers before us have done. I’m not sure if I’m in those realms yet, but I do know I am a seeker. Not for answers, necessarily, but for intuitive understanding, maybe? But I would also love to be an artist… the kind who can ease some small part of the pain that many of us feel in this world, the kind who can give some hope and love to those who need it. I would love for that hope and love to be in the form of music. I can’t even begin to express the gratitude I feel for all the people who have written to me over the years. I can’t mention you all here, but you are angels in my life. And many of you have shared my music on YouTube, sometimes making beautiful and creative videos to go along with it, and I am grateful for that, too. This love was all brought to me through music, and the music is “out there” because of my husband’s love for me, and his insistence that I continue to create it and release it. I go on and off of Facebook and the internet in phases, and have been pretty much off for the past year and a half. And again, the past few years have been a drug-addled blur for much of the time, so my memory isn’t great and sometimes I have forgotten conversations that I’ve had with people who have corresponded with me, and I may even have missed some messages entirely. But every single person who has reached out to me has helped me so, so much. It is the multiverse reaching out, it is the glittering spider web that connects us all. I don’t think art is ever one-sided, and with respect to music, the listener is just as important as the thing that is listened to. I wouldn’t have received any of the gifts that releasing my music has given me if my husband hadn’t spoken louder to me than the cruel thoughts in my mind did. I would have still created it, but I would never have known that it could mean anything to anyone else. Looking back now, I have to wonder if I ever would have released any music at all if it were not for Dave’s persistence. I would have kept writing it, because it was/is the way I deal with, yep, you guessed it: the trauma and beauty of existence, but I’m really not sure if I would have had the ambition to make something that could be released to the public. Maybe I would have, but I can’t be sure. 

And so, as we face the shadow of death once again, I have been reflecting on our lives, our paths, the past, and the strange trajectories and detours that our lives have taken at times, and the good times and hard times that we have gone through together, and I know that my musical quest has never been about any conventional definitions of success. It has always just been about attempting to deal with loss and death, and celebrating love and hope. From the beginning, that is why I did it, and that is why I still care about making music now, even after all these years. 

When bad things happen, I think you can make something good come from them, even when it hurts. Maybe not at first, because it is very hard to see through the fog of suffering, but eventually something can be found in the ruins. The archetype of the Phoenix is pretty close to my heart nowadays, and as I always do, I’m looking at things through the lens of music and art. These are healing forces, and that’s what it has all been about, and maybe will continue to be. I’ve been working on recording some songs that I wrote long before the accident, but which are very strangely relevant to our lives right now. I’ve realized that there’s some kind of psychic energy/knowledge that gets translated to me through my songs. Often, they seem to prepare me for things to come. I’ve suspected it before, but it has become much clearer to me now. And this newest battle that we are fighting together makes it even more clear. I used to think that I was dealing with the past and present. I never dreamt that I was also dealing with the future. But time is an illusion anyway. Many of you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those songs won’t be released for a while, because obviously we are taking a time-out from everything for more healing.

He (we) will get through this because he is unbelievably strong and resilient. And he has things to do — projects that he has waited a lifetime to work on. He is an artist, too. And we also have projects to do together. Things that we would have been working on over the past four years if we hadn’t been so broken from the accident. Intuitively, we both feel like this is going to be the last difficult thing we’ll have to deal with for a while if we can just hang in there a little longer. This, all of this, has been the “gash” that my last album predicted, and I really think we are almost through it.

Below is a snippet of something I was working on before all of this got so bad. This is from a video project that I’m hoping to continue working on soon. Please excuse the sound quality. The music isn’t synched to the video, it’s just playing in the background on speakers. It will obviously be much more “professional” when the real thing is finished. I’m not exactly sure, but I suspect that this will be something of a mishmash of things: part documentary, part thank you/love letter to my listeners, part dream, part altered-consciousness/alternate reality exploration, part magical realism, and part healing journey/vision quest. Part garden, part abyss. My husband will be helping me with building some sets and things like that. In this clip, he is holding the light. I think that’s fitting, because it kind of sums up who he is to me. The one who holds the light.

The accompanying music is an excerpt from my newest song, “Hello Again, Spider,” that I wrote about a month and a half ago when we thought things were finally getting better. Almost there…

Hello again, Spider
You know I tore my web
So I want to thank you, little spider
For lending me your thread