Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Riding Out the Storm (With a LOT of Help from My Friends)

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene came through the area this weekend.  It didn't do nearly as much damage as we were expecting (although Connecticut and Vermont seem to have suffered some pretty serious casualties).  Aside from a lot of leaves and branches on the ground, it turned out to be little more than a windy, rainy day.  A good day to stay in, bake cookies, eat (organic) junk food, and catch Jess up on the first season of Torchwood and the second season of the new Doctor Who.  She's still dealing with the departure of Christopher Eccleston, but between her roommate and I, we'll make a Whovian out of her yet.

In all, the weekend was pretty great.  We started out by catching Great Big Sea outdoors at Boarding House Park in Lowell on Friday.  Great night for a show, and a terrific performance by those guys, as always.  Alan Doyle is one of the best front men I've ever seen, and the whole band always seems to be having a great time.  Saturday was spent stocking up and getting a haircut (not to mention taking note of my 90 days without a drink), then trekking down to Cranston to visit my friend Kevin Borowski at his tattoo shop, Iron Hand Tattoo.  I haven't seen Kevin in about 18 years, and since then he's developed a very good reputation as an artist, specializing in traditional style ink.  I definitely need to go down there and get something from him, if I can get an appointment (The guy he was working on told us he had to wait three months for an appointment.  Hopefully there's a separate list for former band mates...).

So riding out the storm was the order of the day Sunday, and we did it fairly well in my humble opinion.  It's usually easy when it's right there in front of you, and you can see the wind and the rain.  Other types of storms are not so easy to ride out.  I'm talking, of course, about the ones in your mind, whether they be because of depression, finances, addiction, or whatever other non-meteorological cause.  Navigating the various gales and high tides of a psychological storm requires a team effort most of the time.  I'm not talking about professional health care providers, although those definitely do help.  I mean the people around you.  The ones you see and spend time with and confide in and love every day.

This weekend, the Gobshites head back up to the Catskills to play at the Blackthorne, as we do every Labor Day weekend.  You may remember that, last time we were there, I hit my jackpot with alcohol.  This time around, I'll be 96 days sober, and playing better than I have in a long time.  There will be plenty of temptation around me, so I guess that's a storm that I'll have to sail through.  But it'll be much much easier this time around, thanks to the crew of folks I have around me.  Let the hooley begin...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Music Blog: Musical Style Mashups Can Be Fun Edition

I love it when artists adapt something outside their style into what they do.  That's one of the reasons I love Me First and the Gimme Gimmes so much.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops are seriously talented, each one a multi-instrumentalist.  This version of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" sounds like it could have been written this way.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frank Turner

Heard this song in a video on tattoo artist Myke Chambers' website, and decided to look him up on Youtube.  If you're a fan of Billy Bragg, you'll dig this, and look for his other stuff.  Apparently, he's toured around with Green Day and the Offspring, but I don't think I've ever heard any of his stuff before.  New music is teh awesum...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pickin' And a-Grinin'

Monday's post was a bummer.  Yup.  It was written in about 20 minutes, during a time when everything was hitting me all at once.  And actually, I added the first paragraph after I'd written everything else, because even I recognized the pity party I was throwing.  Depression is a tricky bastard.  Therapy and medication definitely mitigate a lot of the complications and symptoms, but even then, depression can find a cat door in your mind and sneak in to ruin your day.  Obviously, if there are legitimate stresses in your life, nothing short of a controlled substance or an amber-colored liquid is going to make you forget about it, no matter how much more "together" you seem to be to your loved ones.  And those options really aren't open to me any more.  There are days when all I want to do is punch depression in the face.  A lot.  Of course on those days, it takes all the energy I can muster to get out of bed, so it's kind of a Catch-22.

Ah well.  Yes, I'm stressed about some stuff, and yes, there's no permanent solution yet in place, however I am working on it.  But guess what?  Me and Jess are gonna learn the banjo.  And I'm sorry, but you just cannot be depressed when you're playing (or listening to) the banjo.  It's physically impossible.  I've tried.  Banjos just go hand in hand with a good time, no matter what The Deerhunter has conditioned us to believe (And by the way, the bad guys in that film weren't the ones playing the banjos.  Just Sayin'.).

Irish music got me into traditional instruments, but I've been getting into a lot of Bluegrass lately, too.  Definitely loving stuff like Old Crow Medicine Show, Alisson Krauss, and the Wailin' Jennys, but also some folks you might be surprised by.  Right now, I'm a little obsessed with Steve Martin's The Crow CD.  Sure, we all saw him in the 70's, with the white suit and the rubber chicken and the banjo with the arrow through his head, and we thought he was all wacky.  But have you ever just sat down and listened to him play the thing?  You really should, because that dude can shred.  Even on some of his comedy albums, he'd throw in an all-banjo track, and while I never really paid attention at the time, I go back and listen to those tunes and I really appreciate the incredible musicianship it takes to play like that.

One person you've probably never heard of (unless you go to the Catskills a lot, or have ever seen Derek Warfield's Young Wolfetones), is Damaris Woods.  She plays the tenor banjo, and she may be quiet and reserved offstage, but when they let her go, she can deliver.  Her solos have stopped me in my tracks at the Blackthorne, where I'll be seeing her again this Labor Day weekend, along with Black 47, and the Gobshites (I'll be the one drinking water and iced tea on stage.  It'll be kind of hard to miss me.).

The Gobshites have had some great banjo players over the years.  Pret Woodburn, Dave Robichaud, and most recently Paddy Putnam, have all been a ton of fun to watch on stage (and sometimes off).  Paddy is generously giving his time so that Jess and I can learn at least a little of his genius.  I'm still having a ton of fun with the mandolin, but I'm trying to cram in as much as I can of everything these days.  I guess it's a musical addiction.  Could be worse, right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Same Old Song and Dance

First off, I want to say that I had a great weekend.  It was a nice time of getting away (to the water!), spending time with both Jess and my daughter, meeting new friends, celebrating a momentous occasion, and relaxation.  And the fact is I'm very optimistic about some things right now.  VERY optimistic.  AND, today is day 85 without a drink.  So all good news there.  But even at the best of times, there's always something nagging in the background, making sure that, no matter how good I feel right now, I shouldn't count on that feeling to stick around, because there's a monkey wrench heading towards me...

It's coming, quickly, and I can see it just off in the distance.  There's no avoiding it, nor a chance to get out of its' way.  All escape hatches are closed and battened down, with only a brick wall behind me.  Are there lifelines?  I can't really tell, there's a light blocking my view above.  I suppose there are, there always seem to be, but I'm feeling a little too anxious to try and reach for one.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm worried that I'll make a grab and have it yanked away.  Or worse, what I thought was a lifeline turns out to be a python.  I close my eyes, brace myself, and whisper "Here we go again..."

It's a week and a half until the end of the month.  Which means the beginning of next month, which means the rent's due, and I have come to the end of yet another month without being able to find any way to keep the twin bullies of worry and shame away from getting at my psyche.  If it's getting boring for you to read about, imagine how boring it's getting for me to talk about.  Not boring, that's the wrong word.  I'm not sure there is a word to describe how I feel about it at this point.  But it's always there, even on my better days.  It's going to be there, until I can pull myself out of this rock slide that slows down about the middle of each month, and then starts up again in the last week or so.

I've taken steps to try and kill the beast more or less permanently, and hopefully I'll have some good news on that front soon.  But even with that, there's the end of this month to deal with, and I'm once again straining my finances and juggling bills and wants and needs in order to avoid, somehow, humiliating myself yet again in order to keep a roof over my head for another month.  A few years back, for similar reasons, I went through what I thought at the time was the worst year in my life.  Things were bad on almost all fronts.  Emotionally, financially, and nearly everything else-ally, I was struggling to get myself out of a rather deep hole.  This year, while not a loss on all fronts in many ways, seems to be trying to compete with 2007/2008 for the title of Most Trying Year of My Life.  And even with my emotional and psychological well being making huge strides (Thanks to modern chemistry, therapy, and perhaps most of all to a certain Whisky Witch), the financial troubles I'm having seem to be picking up the slack.

Good Lord, how much longer can I possibly stand this?  And what's it going to take for the Universe to cut me a break in this area?  I've gotten help, but I'm starting to feel like an ass, hat in hand all the time, hoping someone will bail me out.  I really don't want to be bailed out, but all my efforts over the past several months have come up short of putting myself in a position to take care of all of this on my own.  Can this really be where I am at this point in my life?  Have I done something so bad as to deserve to be here, frustrated and scared?

This is what my mind goes through in the last two or so weeks of every single month lately.  I'm tired.  I'm bored of it.  I really need it to change.  Now.  I deserve better.

Come on, Universe.  Just this once...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Elbowing the Gatekeeper

So, did anyone think to click the link in the title of yesterday's post?  If you did, and you watched after school programming on channel 56 in Boston (or pretty much any other UHF station that ran the Banana Splits and Brady Bunch reruns in the afternoon) growing up, you might get a kick out of that link.  Do the words "Come back here!" ring a bell?  If not, click it anyway, and see what the rest of us experienced.  I was feeling goofy, so I just kind of threw it in as an Easter Egg.

Anyway, not much to update, but I still feel like writing for some reason.  And who really needs a reason to write, anyway?  There's a book called The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, that I used to try and follow.  I may go back to it at some point, because I liked a lot of the ideas and exercises in it.  One of my favorites was the Morning Pages.  Every morning, right when you wake up, your write out three pages in a standard size notebook.  And that's three pages, both sides.  And it doesn't matter what it's about.  It could be total gibberish, it could be three pages worth of "I don't know what to write," but you have to fill all three pages.  And then you put them away and don't look at them for, say, six months or so.  And only you get to see them, they're not for anyone else.  It's an exercise in just emptying your brain and unclogging it, for lack of a better phrase.  It's supposed to be stream of consciousness.  You might come up with something brilliant in there, but that's not really the point.  The point is to get your mind working, right at the beginning of your day.

I did those for a long time, and it definitely works.  Just the routine of doing it every day gets your mind working creatively.  It didn't take the place of any personal journaling I was doing, although some elements of that would no doubt appear in the Morning Pages.  I found myself writing more in general, which really helped me build my standup act.  And it also reinforced an idea that I'd seen in other books on writing, which is that you can't do the editing in your mind.  When you first come up with the idea, you should write down everything you associate with it, no matter how silly or useless it seems to you at the time.  Or, to quote Jon Vorhaus in the Comic Toolbox, "Kill your ferocious editor."

You can't let the words get all trapped in your brain, you have to get them out on the page first.  Then you can start editing and paring down to what you're really trying to say, and how all of those ideas fit together (or don't, as the case may be).  That's the biggest hazard for me in any creative process I try.  I let my doubts about what I'm doing act as a gatekeeper in my mind and stall any efforts to get anything out and on the page, or sketch pad, or whatever other medium I'm using.  That I now recognize it seems to me to be a good sign, because that means I can elbow that gatekeeper out of the way and just plow forward.  It doesn't always work, but it works more than it used to, and that's a good first step.

Have I mentioned lately that I'm enjoying the hell out of this new mandolin?  I'm telling you, I think I got my three favorite birthday presents ever this year.  Between the mando, the MacBook, and the TARDIS mug, I really can't help but smile when I think about how great the day was.  Not just because of the presents, mind you (Although they were definitely awesome.  Just saying.).  The fact that family and friends were there to celebrate with me, and I got to play music, and have an actual birthday party for the first time in years, made this year's occasion a real bright spot in a very challenging year.

Please exit single-file, in an orderly fashion.  Thank you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I have another earworm for you.  I've had the song in my iTunes for some time now, and I've actually played with this band at Shamrockfest in Washington, D.C.  But lately for some reason, I can't get it out of my head.  My girlfriend says this might beat out "Code Monkey" by Jonathan Coulter.  Great, now they're both fighting for attention in my tilt-a-whirl of a brain.  Anyway, here's the "Worst Pirate Song" by Ceann.  You can thank me later...

Got a new tattoo (Courtesy of Jess again.  I'm starting to wonder if she just likes to see people jab me for an hour...) this weekend at the Art Riot Expo in Boxborough, Mass. from Mariah of Providence Tattoo.  It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, but I'm really pleased with it.  Pictures are up on Facebook.

I also took my daughter up to New Hampshire and Shogun Tattoo, to get her very first ink from my friend Jamey Proctor.  She was nervous as hell beforehand, but she took it like a trooper.  It helped that what she wanted wasn't all that complicated.  And she's already got another one in mind.  It begins...

I managed to get through my rent emergency crisis this weekend with the help of my family.  And on a positive note, I had an interview yesterday, and requests from two other companies to interview today.  Hopefully soon, I can breathe at least a moderate sigh of relief.  It's been a trying year thus far, to put it mildly, but I really feel like things are starting to turn around on all fronts.  It's a cautious optimism, but it's optimism, nonetheless.  Trying not to get my hopes up, of course.

Get Rhythm...

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Q: How Is My Piggy Bank Like a Seashell?

A: If you hold it up to your ear, you can hear the ocean...

I feel like a broken record sometimes, when I talk about my problems with money.  Right now, I am once again in a situation where my back is against the wall.  I have no money whatsoever, and my rent's overdue.  My car payment's overdue.  My cable and phone bills are overdue.  My car need s new brakes and whatever the hell else is necessary to get it to pass inspection.  And I have no money.  Since about February, I've been seriously looking for ways to supplement my income in order to afford the rent that doubled as of May 1st.  I signed a new lease for one year last December, and I intend to honor it.  Am I being foolish?  Probably, but I really have no other place to go.  I don't have the money for a first and last for a new place, and even if I did, then I'd have the money to pay my rent for this month, so what would be the point of moving?

At first, I tried looking for a new roommate.  But the only serious inquiry I got from my online postings came from someone who would be moving here from the other side of the country, and  really didn't want to meet my new roommate on the first day they lived here.  I had also come to decide that I really didn't want a new roommate anyway.  I didn't want to have to share my place with someone I didn't know, and I wanted to try and live on my own.  It's been a struggle, to say the least.  No doubt it was a factor in the ramping up of my drinking problem.  As my worry over paying my bills got worse, the desire to escape and numb myself got greater.  And so I ended up spending money I didn't have to self-medicate.  Genius!

In June, I sold most of my old vinyl records.  I hated to part with them, but I needed the money more than I needed to have them sitting in my house, particularly since I haven't had a turntable in years.  The ones I sold were pretty good, and I was a rock star at Newbury Comics in Norwood for a few weeks.  I've also got a sizable comic book collection that, thus far, I haven't found a buyer for.  Again, there will be some books I'll hate to part with, but they don't help if they just sit.  I'll keep some of the graphic novel and trade paperbacks, because I still enjoy reading them.  But the comics have to go.

I also used to collect hockey and baseball cards.  I have no idea if anything I have is of any value, but those can be sacrificed for the cause as well.  I'm not particularly sentimental about any of those, to be honest, so fare thee well, Lefty McWatsisname of the East Podunk Thumbscrews.  I hope the space you took up in my house is at least worth some cash.  Same goes for you, Bruiser LeKneepad of the Inuit City Mukluks (Okay, that was redundant and gratuitous.  But it made me laugh, so get your own damn blog if you don't like it).

Of course, one obvious solution would be to get a new job that pays better, or at the very least a part time job.  Trust me, I'm trying that too.  You know what I found out, though?  Even for part time jobs, they want you to apply online.  Really?!?  For  ringing a register?  I suppose they feel cheated out of the opportunity to ignore applicants the way full-time employers do.  Yet I keep searching, but the problems I have getting part time work are my full time job schedule, which can change week to week, and the necessity of going to meetings for my recovery, as well as the fact that one of my therapists can only see me during nighttime appointments.  So getting a new full time job (or attempting to squeeze more money out of my current employer, which is less likely) becomes my primary solution.  I didn't get the job I interviewed for a few weeks back, but I got three calls last week from prospective employers, two of which were unsolicited.

So things are still precarious, financially speaking, but possibly looking up.  I haven't yet seriously considered installing a virtual tip jar here, but the thought has crossed my mind.  It's starting to get tiresome, this situation, but I've now got some hope.  The odds should be in my favor, right?  I mean, the universe can throw you only so many curve balls before you start adjusting your swing.

Batter up.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea...Or At Least Close to It

I've spent a lot of time in Salem lately.  More than I have in years.  I think the last time I was there it was for a radio promotion for WCGY.  17 years ago.  Now that my daughter will be moving there in less than a month, I definitely want to get to know the place better.  I like old port cities like Salem and Portsmouth because they have a distinct character.  I'm not particularly nautical, but cities like that tend to appeal to artistic types for some reason.  And Salem, of course, has all the witchcraft lore and pirate history to go with it too, which I find fascinating.

Like I said last week, the issue of spirituality has been looming in my thoughts, mostly spurred by my recovery.  Again, I'm not an atheist, I just don't know what's out there.  I'm not interested in being saved by anyone or shown the true light or anything like that.  I'm trying to find my own path.  And I definitely feel a connection with places like Salem.  Is it being close to the water, and all that symbolizes?  I don't know.  Like I said, I'm not a boater, and I haven't been to a beach-other than to watch a fireworks show or just to walk out on the jetty-in years.  I like the smell of chlorine when I'm swimming.

But water definitely evokes the idea of life, cleansing, and renewal.  At least for me it does.  And being near the water just feels right to me.  I don't live near the water right now, which is okay, because I think if I did, it wouldn't have the same meaning to me.  It wouldn't have the same power to make me feel the way I do when I have to travel to it in order to spend time there.  It's easy enough for me to get to, which is good, and probably the main reason I don't live anywhere that's landlocked.

Maybe I'll move closer when I retire.  By that time, I could probably use some renewal.  Hell, I could use it right now.  This hasn't been the best week for me in a few ways.  No, I haven't had a drink, and I haven't really felt the desire to (well, if I'm being honest, I can't say I haven't at least thought about it).  But the beginning of every month seems to bring with it a host of anxieties and worries.  I have a few leads on improving my financial situation, which hopefully don't all turn into mirages.  And as always, I have my incredible support network.  And I realize life isn't always-or even ever-supposed to be easy.  I just wish it weren't this hard seemingly all the time.

Mostly inactive week for the Gobshites.  We're playing a house party tomorrow night, and I'll be joining in a seissun at the same house during the day (and possibly playing the mandolin in public for the first time).  Next weekend, we're at one of our favorite places to play, the British Beer Company in Cedarville, Mass.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Frid...er, Monday Music Blog: Happy Anniversary Edition


Forgot to post a music blog on Friday, but as it happens it's MTV's 30th Anniversary today, so it all evens out.


What a great weekend, both personally and for the Gobshites.  Saturday night was one of the two best shows we've played in recent memory.  It looked like we were going to be down a few members, with me getting behind the drum kit.  But at the last minute, a few old faces came out to join us, and the result was a raucous, rollicking good time.  I made my live debut on the harminoca (and by most accounts, acquitted myself well), and even the songs we were a little rusty on sounded pretty damn good. I actually knew it was going to be a good night from our fist song, when I saw a guy walking in singing along to "Hurry Up Harry."  We definitely left them wanting more.  And seeing as the gig was about 15 minutes from my house, it was a relatively early night.

Saturday afternoon, I got to celebrate my daughter's 18th birthday with an early dinner at Lorenzo's in Middleboro, Mass.  This restaurant has been our destination of choice for all kinds of family celebrations over the years.  I missed out on the cake and ice cream on Wednesday (her actual birthday) because I had to work, but we had a good time on Saturday, and I got to give her a couple of books to open (Her big present this year is her first tattoo.  I couldn't be more proud.), and Jess gave her some gift certificates for places around Salem, where she'll start at the state University in the Fall.

On Sunday, after sleeping in a bit and a quick grocery shopping trip, Jess and I went up to Salem to pick up a wedding shower gift for her cousin.  We also took the opportunity to walk around a bit and poke in some of the stores.  Jess knows her way around the city, so I basically follow her lead there.  The artist who did my claddagh tattoo now works at a shop there (and also owns the local Ben & Jerry's franchise in town).  I was able to reconnect with him a few weeks ago, and I plan on having him do another one for me soon (I actually have ideas for my next five pieces, and who I want to do them).  We also checked out a couple of the witchcraft stores (natch), and played a little skee ball down at the willows.  I totally rule at skee ball.  I wonder if there's a pro-league around somewhere I can get in on.

The weekend ended with a show at TT the Bear's in Cambridge, with us opening a bill that included the Trabants and a band from San Francisco called Diego's Umbrella.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stick around for the Trabants, but Diego's Umbrella made their first appearance in the area a memorable one.  Those guys really put on a dynamite show, and we were simply blown away.  Check out their web site, and try to see them if they come to your area any time soon.

Today is the beginning of another month, which brings with it all of the worries and concerns that come up at the beginning of every month (rent money, etc.).  While I'm still biting my nails over that, the effects of the weekend have definitely had a calming influence over me.  Tomorrow, or even tonight, I'll probably be freaking out a bit over money.  But right now I'm happy and content.  I have a lot of people to thank for that, but Jess and my daughter (and to a certain extent, the cat) did a lot of the heavy lifting of my mood, even if they didn't do anything consciously to help out.  Just having them around and in my life has improved things a thousand-fold.

Tonight, I go to a meeting, get home, light up some incense to spur a little creativity, and grab the mando.  And the whistle.  And maybe even the harmonica.  I wonder if the cat knows how to back me up on bodhran...