Monday, April 7, 2014

Codes

Back on February 25th, I woke up to a call from my sister that my dad had fallen and broken his neck. Ever since, I feel like I've been treading water, just trying not to sink.

My dad is fine now. Well, as fine as anyone can be with a broken neck, no eyesight, an amputated leg, and the beginning signs of a drifting mind. But, he's not paralyzed. So that's something.

But he is off to long-term care in a nursing home. No more assisted living with his own room, microwave, bathroom. He'll have a roommate. In a nursing home. He's 72.

I know of other 72 year olds who are perfectly healthy. My dad is a twin. His twin brother lives in his own home that he's owned since as long as I can remember. He lives there with his wife. He drives. He goes fishing. He can see. He can walk. He can hold conversations. Yet my dad, his twin brother...

How do two people living the same life end up so different?

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When confronted with mortality that way, when faced with what is possibly your future, a life cut off due to an illness that gets away from you...you realize how frighteningly short life can be and how every mistake you made, every wrong turn, every sick day spent stuck in bed, every thing you didn't do that you really wanted to, every thing you never tried due to some silly reason...you realize you'll never get that back. Goodbye. It's gone. Too late. You fucked up. The ship has sailed.

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I feel that way with music sometimes. Okay, most of the time. I started so late. So very late. And each day that is taken away from me because of work or illness that I don't get to spend trying to make something of this music thing just crushes me.

I've been sick for nearly 3 weeks now. I had one week of reprieve, then it was back. Each time right before a show. Each time I fought my way through the show, doing everything I could to not sound like total shit. I spent the weeks leading up to them avoiding all dairy, guzzling tea, canceling all other plans that I may have been looking forward to for weeks, giving up concert tickets...just so I could sing.  Because it's what I love to do.

It's what makes me happy.

And canceling those other things to make that happen...totally worth it. Because for those 45 minutes up on stage, I am happier than I could ever express.

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I'm on vacation right now. It's kind of a fake vacation. I have no real reasons to be off of work. I'm not going out of town. It's more a mental health break. I needed some time away from people. The office is very crowded right now and I was really beginning to feel like I was losing it. I haven't had a week off of work in roughly 4 years. And this isn't even a full week off as I have to go to a work training session on Thursday. But I was desperate. So here I am.

But I was also supposed to start recording the next album this past weekend. I had visions of spending this week with my new raw mixes of the new songs, working on vocal arrangements, thinking of what else they'd need.

But 2 hours into recording, the tape machine (because I record analog - no computers) started having issues and we had to cancel. Two months of anticipation and excitement leading up to that weekend and it was over. And it was nobody's fault. Things break. The machine will be fixed. And, honestly, I was sick the whole time and my energy level was low and maybe it was for the best. But, because everyone is busy and time is so fleeting, it looks like we won't get back into the studio until early June. And that sucks.

I'm also staring down 6 weeks of soul crushing awful work at the day job. Having a new album in the works was a blip of positivity, a little happy string to hold onto to get me through. A reminder that I am not my day job. That I am more than pushing papers and spreadsheets.

And then even after we couldn't record, I thought, well, at least I have the week off. I can still work on vocal arrangements. I can still practice.

It was almost a pretend week of what life could be like if I was living it the way I wanted. I even have a show on Friday. It was going to be great.

But I'm still sick.

And I hate it.

And day 1 of vacation is already more than half over. As always, I'm just staring down time.

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I was suppose to film an interview and perform some songs for a documentary on the Minnesota folk scene tomorrow. But I've had to cancel. Because I can't sing.

Opportunities and moments that pass by.

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I feel like I've spent the last 6 weeks waiting for something. I just go through the daily motions, each time hoping nothing gets in the way of what I really want to do. It's a stressful way to live and probably a factor as to why I am sick all of the time.

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I complain a lot about being sick. A lot. If I'm around someone who tells me they are sick, I physically cringe and back away. It's become a joke amongst some friends who know of my germaphobia and always make sure to tell me they aren't sick anymore or at the moment.

I've caught colds in the past.  My pre-music playing days. And they sucked then. But it was a sick day off of work and then a week or so of coughing and life carrying on as normal. If I decided to say fuck it I'm still going to go to that concert even though it might prolong my illness, oh well. But now, it fucks me up. Mentally.

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I have been wanting to be a musician since the 5th grade when I would practice singing along to Whitney Houston - using the vacuum cleaner as a mic stand (works really well). I spent my time alone learning how to play power ballads on my casio keyboard. I still remember when I learned how to play the intro to "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "November Rain". There I was - making a song.

When I got my first acoustic guitar and the first three songs I learned:  "Don't Look Back in Anger", "Norweigan Wood", and "You Were Meant for Me"...that was the kicker. Learning to play and sing along with Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me". It was a moment for me. I can do this thing.

Then I discovered Ani Difranco. She was the perfect mixture of the more rock n' roll inspirations that I wanted to be like (Liz Phair, Courtney Love, PJ Harvey) and the acoustic guitar I enjoyed playing. I found a path. I knew what I wanted to do.

But I never did it.

All those years. All of those musicians I've known. All of the local shows I went to and the connections I had. I just let them slip by. Because I was shy. Because I was insecure. Because I thought people would laugh.

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Flash forward 10 years later and I got over it. And I loved it. And it was everything I thought it would be and so much more. And it became all I wanted to do. And it consumed my life. And it is all I ever want to talk about. All I ever want to do.

But it's late.

I'm turning 35 this year. I've played shows with people who - in another horrible life - could be my children. I am living the life of a 22 year old while being 35, married, working a full-time job, having a mortgage, paying off major debt, putting my father in a nursing home...it's hard to relate.

And each time I experience a setback of being sick...each time I have to cancel events or plans that involve me + music, it crushes me. Because I feel like I'm running out of time and eventually I'll have to give it up. Because a major breakthrough in my career is not going to happen when I'm 45. Chances of it happening when I'm 34 are slim to none.

But I am trying.

But there is never enough time.

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I am an overly dramatic person. Everything is always The Worst. Little things irritate me in a way that I can't even begin to explain.

And the big things, those make me want to crawl into bed and never leave.

I am a very strange combination of a very logical, grounded person and someone who walks around with their head in the clouds. I know I have to go to work every day. I know I need to make money. I know I cant just quit and pack up the car with my guitar and start driving from city to city trying to make a name for myself.

But, oh my goodness do I dream of it and legitimately try to think of ways to make it happen.

.......................

We had a care meeting for my dad a few weeks ago. Me, my sister, my dad, and every doctor and therapist and nurse and administrative person that has been working with him for the past year together in one room to talk about what's next for him. I can't even begin to imagine what that was like for him. To sit there, helpless, listening to what everyone thinks is best for you. You. A grown man. 72 years old. Unable to care for yourself but so very much still wanting to try. Everyone telling you how to live your life and making all of your decisions for you. Right down to when you get to go to the bathroom.

And then his social worker asked him about codes.

"Dennis, we need to talk about codes. If we walk into your room and find you unconscious, no pulse, do you want us to resuscitate?"

It was a question I wasn't prepared to hear. And my eyes started to well up and I looked at him. And he just sat there, staring off into the distance. And then he said "well, I don't want to be a vegetable" and he began to mumble and give scenarios and she asked again:

"Dennis, if we find you in your room, we won't know how long it has been since you were like that. If we find you that way, do you want us to try to resuscitate?"

And he said, "no...I guess not then."

And I...I don't know what I thought.

My dad never wanted to be this way. All his life, he always said if he ever ended up in a home to just kill him. He doesn't want to be a burden.

Yet, here he is. In a home. And he's trying. He's trying to live. All he wants is to be able to be in his own space, doing his own thing. It's all he's ever wanted his whole life. Just leave him alone.

And I honestly don't think he meant it when he said to just leave him to die. But, what else is he going to say? It was like watching a lawyer badger a witness. "Well...we could try...but you might end up brain dead so why bother, right?"

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I look at my dad and all of the things in life he wanted. It was never much. And it changed throughout the years, as everyone's desires do. In school, he was a star athlete. I'm sure he had dreams of being a professional athlete.

But he got hurt and then married and then kids and then that was that. Then he just wanted to get up and go to work every day and provide. I've never met anyone who loved going to work more than my dad. Loved it. He voluntarily worked 14 hours a day because he could.

And then that was taken from him.

And then he just wanted to spend time with his grandkids and have fish fries and watch sports.

And then that was taken from him.

And now he's just wants to be able to see. If he could just see, he always says, he could live on his own.

But that was taken from him.

And now I'm sure there is another reason. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just his stubborness. Maybe he just wants to prove everyone wrong. He wants to show us all that he can bounce back.

But that's being taken from him.

And it's heartbreaking. And terrifying.

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I don't want to be asked about codes someday and in a split second think about my life and where I'll have ended up and all of the things I never got to do for whatever reason and still holding out hope that whatever that thing that keeps me going that that thing might still happen, but I need to decide right now if it's worth it. That's an awful place to be.

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I feel like I have 3 more years to do this. In 3 years I'll be 38. I'll either be where I want to be or I'll still be working administrative jobs in an office and will need to suck it up and realize that's where I'm going to be and I'll have to make the most of it.

3 years.

So when I have setbacks because I'm stuck in an office with someone who comes to work when they are flu-stricken and passes it on to me and I have to cancel musical endeavors, I get so angry. Because I have just 3 years left to get this figured out. And that's not a lot of time. And it's my fault. Because I was too scared to do any of this earlier. And that probably hurts the most. Regret. Why? Why didn't I just try?

I'm not saying that in 3 years I have to quit music. I can still play. I can still write. But the dream will be over. I'll have to put it away and focus on making enough money so I don't have to work until I'm 72 - if I'll even be allowed to do that.

If I'll even be fortunate enough to be physically able to.

Sometimes I think, maybe I'll get into radio. Maybe I should go to school for that. That's music related. I would probably enjoy it.

But time. Time and money. I need to work full-time just to get the basic bills paid. My spare time has to go to my music. School is not an option right now. Because of time. Time and money.

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Priorities. I've learned, for better or worse, to put a laser-like focus on what is important to me. Me. What makes me happy.

But that damn logical, grounded side of my brain keeps getting in the way. You know, the one that comes with age. The one that says, hey, you kind of need to have a place to live. And a car. And food. And a winter coat.

And all the dreaming in the world is not going to give you those things.

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Start the countdown to 38. I hope I'm where I want to be.


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