Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Desperate In-Between

It's Easter Saturday. For my family, that means its the day we celebrate the secular Easter. It's about easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies and gifts in baskets with fake grass. We save the sacred for Easter Sunday. That's the church day, the resurrection day, the day we ascribe the more profound meaning to. Easter Saturday is, according to the bible story, that in between time.

The bible doesn't say much about those in-between days. After Jesus dies on the cross, he's prepared for burial and then the story cuts to the third day and the story of his rising. We know that most of his disciples freaked out and hid for fear of being arrested. Many of his inner circle bunkered down in a place called the upper room waiting for news. They weren't waiting to hear about Jesus rising from the dead. More likely, they were waiting to hear when the warrants for their own arrests would be issued. Its a place where a burning, faith driven enthusiasm collided with a harsh reality that seemed to obliterate that faith. The faith of these true believers had already become increasingly strained by Jesus' own predictions of his death and a noticeable falling away of followers not willing to accept some of Jesus' hard teachings. In Jesus' presence, these folks had confidence, vision and hope. Now, without Him, they were isolated, desperate and afraid.

The desperate, in-between times are those that challenge every fibre of our character. They are the times that change us for either the better or the worse. The image of a tightrope walker with no net comes to mind. Where, it seems as though everything is at stake and delicate and you will either fall into oblivion or somehow make it to the other side.

Recently I've been thinking about my dad. He died in 2009, just a few months after our beautiful girl contracted viral encephalitis. He had been told by doctor's that he had very little time. In spite of this, the day my daughter had to be taken into the hospital emergency room, he managed to meet us there and encourage us. He was going through his own, desperate, in-between time and yet he came to hope with us for the best. When our lovely girl was released from the hospital about a month later, he was on the phone, encouraging. A short, couple months later, we were able to visit him at his house. By this time, he was on hospice care.  In spite of the pain and uncertainty I know he was dealing with, to us he just shared his happiness that our daughter "made it" and that he told us she would. I don't remember a time where my children bonded more with my dad than those last days. A few short weeks after this his illness took a hard turn and he passed away.

For all the differences I'd ever had with my father, how he lived those last months of his life showed me glimpses of something really great. A life lived well in the he desperate, in-between times.

I wrote a tune that is inspired by my dad in this time called "Fade To Black". Its about making a choice to keep hoping and living or fading to black which is a metaphor for despairing or even dying. Its about being in that desperate, in-between time. This verse is my dad in those times:

Might think that this ole man
has seen some better days
hit his stride back when the big bands played
seems like all this bad news
sent this train off the tracks
long as you've got a few more miles to go
don't start to fade to black

Over the past few years, we've spent a good deal of time in that place. Waiting in emergency rooms, riding in ambulances, family events interrupted with seizures. Dreams interrupted for a teenage girl. Life interrupted on an almost regular basis. So Easter Saturday; family time, bunnies, candy, egg hunts. Escapism? Material Excess? Yes, maybe. But, also, simple attempts at practicing what it is to live well in the desperate, in-between.

Zombie Out!

Tightrope image © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Friday, March 30, 2012

Still Loud and Too Close

So, it's been a while, specifically, 492 days, since I posted my last blog. In spite of the radio silence much has happened and yet sometimes it feels like nothing has happened. So, in November 2010, we here at the zombie cave were heading into the holidays and holding our breath for our lovely girl's recovery. I spoke about that way back here. Well, just out of the holidays, our daughter began having increasing occurrences of seizures. Our hope was that they would go in the other direction, but unfortunately, they did not. On some occasions she needed to be rushed to the hospital via ambulance and a few times she's needed to be hospitalized. In looking back at the abrupt end of posts to this blog, I'm reminded of how hard my family and I took the steps backward in our lovely girl's recovery.

This last August, 2011, we had a particularly difficult trial when my daughter came down with stomach flu and couldn't keep her anti-seizure medication down. As a result, she had some of the worst seizures she's had since she first exhibited the symptoms of the encephalitis that started all of this. She was hospitalized for a few days and some tests were run on her. What they discovered was that the seizure activity she was continuing to have was coming from the same region of the brain, and looked for the most part, the same, as when she first contracted encephalitis back in 2009. The sobering implications of this are that it is likely, from a medical perspective, that she will continue to have seizures for the foreseeable future, and possibly for the rest of here life. News like that forces a person to make decisions. The basic choices are whether to give up or keep moving forward; to live or die. That sounds simplistic, but its kind of true. For people who've never gone through something like this, that may sound ridiculous, maybe even naive or selfish. But here's the thing, I think more people relate to this than even know it.

That brings me to my tangent. Tonight we watched the movie, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Its about a boy with Aspergers syndrome trying to cope with the death of his father who was killed in the September 11, World Trade Center attacks. The movie is powerful, well acted and emotionally intense. There are many layers to the story in how it depicts grief and guilt and loss shared by not just a family but so many other people who's stories weave in and out of the primary narrative. I recommend it on those merits alone. However, the thing that surprised me in watching it, is how emotionally connected I was to the 911 attacks after ten years. I was reminded of watching on live television a second plane crashing into the second tower. I was reminded of seeing, in real time, the buildings collapse, fully comprehending that thousands of lives were being extinguished, displayed on television in my living room, in a senseless act of violence. I was made aware that the grief and despair that I've felt since my daughter got sick in June 2009 have deeper roots than I could have imagined.

Previously in this blog, I'd written about post traumatic stress, in fact, that was my last post. Watching this film, re-experiencing my greif over this tragedy, brought to mind the idea that a huge audience of people around the world had the same experience I did. We all saw this happen. Humanity grieved on September 11, 2001. Maybe we never really recovered? We tried to fight back, through wars and protests and filling holes with things we can't afford. We keep trying to find someone to blame and we engaged in man hunts to destroy the faces that we associated with our grief. But it seems like we're still empty, still hurting and still unsatisfied, even after ten years. All the usual joys and escapes aren't making life more tolerable for millions of people. Living in the bay area, I've seen the extreme face of anger, frustration and apathy in everything from the Oscar Grant riots and Occupy movements to the jobless rate and current presidential contest.  Things don't appear to be driven by hope, as much as people would like to paint that picture. They seem to be driven by anxiety and fear and a desire to place blame somewhere. I totally relate.

At the end of the movie, what the characters are trying to get to, is the ability to accept what has happened and move on with living. That is hopeful to me. That's what my family and I have needed to do. That's one of the reasons I felt compelled to write this tonight. I hope that's something we as a country and as a world can do at some point. We can't bury what happened on 911, or in Iraq or Afghanistan or the Sudan, or in Haiti or Japan, or to our world economy or to the millions of people traded as slaves or dying of starvation, or the houses we lost or the retirement we watched disappear. That and so much more has happened in the last ten years and most of it has really sucked!

Wait. Check your pulse as I check mine. Is there something moving there? Yes, for now, there is. I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but, if we've got a pulse than we CAN be alive. It doesn't mean we are living, but we can live. I'm going to try, simply because I owe it to my family and hope is worth it. It really is. If all we can do is hope FOR hope, that's still something. If our hope is in something deeper, like a faith, awesome. See, the opposite of hope is despair. To despair is to give up. There is no life in that and nothing will subdue it. Its an empty well. In the film, the boy's quest to find the lock his key would open represents a kind of hope. It is his reason to keep on going. Although it ultimately proved to be a false hope, it was pure and real to him and got him where he needed to be to find real hope, peace and love. Doing things like writing this blog, making music and loving my family everyday, one day at a time, are the things that are moving me forward. My hope is knowing that we are not stuck or permanently defined by time or circumstance, but that we are moving towards something better than where we came from. Where we came from is very real and absolutely informs our journey. Where we're going is open to every, good, wonderful possibility in hope.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Welcome to my darkest days

I'm not a war veteran, nor do I regularly spend my time in a neighborhood over run with senseless violence. I have, however, been around some pretty tough situations over the last three years which may have caused me to experience some degree of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many of the symptoms I've experienced were things I just attributed to the challenges I was currently facing; difficulty sleeping; heightened irritability; occasional panic attacks or angry outbursts; lack of interest in activities that once brought me great joy; heightened sense of mortality and impending doom. These are a handful of manifestations of stress that I'd been struggling with. The funny thing is, in spite of damage that these behaviors can cause, I didn't consider there to be something wrong until I became aware of some symptoms that began to impact my performance at work. I started to become aware of difficulties focusing on certain tasks and my ability to follow through on job assignments began to slip. In addition, I also realized that I was bringing my irritability to the office and was starting to entertain some degree of paranoia around office politics. So, sadly, because money was involved, I decided to see if something was going on.

I was able to talk to a mental health councilor who suggested that I may be dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. I was referred to a therapist and began a process of determining what was going on and addressing it.

The song, 365 Daze, is an illustration of some of what I was dealing with. Its a picture, as well, of what I imagine numerous people who are suffering from some form of PTSD might be going through. Prior to my own experience, I'd only considered PTSD in the context of war veterans; people who'd lived through a barrage of traumatic, life threatening events. Since I've been looking into it, I've become aware of how prevalent PTSD actually is. This article, "Violence in Oakland creates symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder", discusses how intense urban living where street violence is prevalent can cause PTSD and essentially trap generations of people in destructive and depressed life styles. This article, "PTSD interrupts lives after trauma", goes into details about how past trauma, such as child abuse, or witnessing something like a suicide, can lead to PTSD.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older have PTSD. According to the ADAA, PTSD "...can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events."

As with most of the songs coming out of the zombie cave, "365 Daze" is part art, part therapy. For me, its the reminder that I have "a choice to live or die". Making that choice when depressed and buried under something like PTSD can be difficult. If you're reading this and you think you might be having a hard time with that, please, contact your doctor, your local mental health clinic or visit a site like ADAA  to get information and get help.

Here are the lyrics:

365 days is a long, long time to hold your breathe
Devil's calling out for an exchange,
wants to press me into early death.

Jet lagged for more than a year
ain't a lot of time to wake up
from the worst of my fears.
Watchoo looking at? 

Welcome to my darkest days
The sky's falling down and the oceans rage.
If its true the whole world is a stage
I believe this scene comes before act three
and we've got a lot to resolve.
This ain't the curtain call.

365 days ain't a lot of time to say goodbye
Spent so long inside
my post traumatic haze
forgot I had a choice to live or die.

Jet lagged for more than a year
got at least another leg until
my calendars clear.
Watchoo talking 'bout?

Welcome to my darkest days
The sky's falling down and the oceans rage.
If its true the whole world is a stage
I believe this scene comes before act three
and we've got a lot to resolve.
This ain't the curtain call.

So what did you expect to see;
an empty shell or a brand new me?
On the surface seems like nothings really changed
but in my skin my heart and mind are now estranged.

How long we gonna sing this song
How long we gonna sing this song
How long we gonna sing this song
How long, how long, how long, how long.

But my soul hopes still
Yeah, my soul hopes still...

How long we gonna sing this song
How long we gonna sing this song
How long we gonna sing this song
How long, how long, how long, how long.

Here are a few online resources concerning PTSD:

Zombie out!

Image courtesy

Friday, November 19, 2010

365 Daze - post traumatic stress and the suburban zombie

"365 Daze" is a rant that deals with living with post traumatic stress and the challenges of moving forward. According to the Mayo Clinic: "Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that's triggered by a traumatic event. You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you experience or witness an event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror."

We'd love to get your comments or ratings for the tune on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


  We've had a bit of a break between posts and new performance videos. Lots has happened between then and now: Halloween came and went; California has a new governor; many people have celebrated birthdays; Smallville has had about four new episodes;  we've had some scary zombie moments including ambulance action and hospital visit; this zombie has traveled to the near east (as in, Tennessee and Kentucky) and back.Yes, there has been a lot more happening than that, but, alas, such is life.

On the music front, I've finally gotten my laptop fixed and will shortly re-install goodies for music making. I expect that will bring us one step closer to realizing some of the new ditties in a production setting. Oh yeah, and we just bought towel holders and a fondue set. Living large, baby.

This is the sort of a blog post that professional journalists cite as job security. I've got no saucy notions or deep revelations...just a sweet towel holder and a few more good days under my belt.

Tonight we taped three more tunes for You Tube. Hopefully we've got something real and good. With any luck, we'll have a new video up in a week or so. In the meantime, listen to Transatlantiscism from Death Cab for Cutie. Its a fine collection of ditties about emotional distance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"I thought I was on the road seeing clearly..."

The song, "Night of My Travail" captures a moment in my life when I hit bottom in terms of despair and desperation and experienced a "dark night of the soul". It was 2003. Being a high tech professional in the Bay Area, I'd got a bit singed in the Dot Bomb implosion of 2000 and managed to float along with another start up until 2002 when that also dried up. By spring 2003, I was out of work, out of money and out of options. Everything that had worked well for me over the previous decade was gone. Hiring was essentially dried up. I was either over qualified or without enough specific domain experience for any of the openings that I interviewed for.

At home, my wife and I struggled to come up with rent, cancel or postpone most of our current services or debt and raise our two kids. I had no health insurance as the company I'd worked for dissolved completely and there was no COBRA option. The only money coming in during this time came from a combination of music gigs, short term, under market software contracts or my wife's acting or modeling assignments. At key moments, we would also receive, mostly anonymous donations from friends, acquaintances, angels and other divine-type beings who'd leave checks or grocery cards under our door step or slyly slipped into our pockets. In spite of these encouragements, I personally was defeated, buried in a sense of self pity and inadequacy as I could not provide for my family. In this frame of mind, I found myself unable to get out of bed, at times distancing myself from my wife and on the road to giving up completely.

I remember one morning when my daughter was sick with a very high fever. My wife was doing everything to keep her fever down but it wouldn't give and my daughter was making a noise that sounded like a death pant. We scraped up enough change for me to run to the store to pick up Tylenol. On the way there, I lost it. I'd been depressed previously and had spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. But this was different. My child's life appeared to be at risk. That morning it felt as though my stomach had been yanked out my  body. I had been a man of meek, yet relatively persistent faith. In this moment, I felt like I was completely alone in the universe. Did I pray? Oh yeah, I prayed, but my prayers felt dead.

A little while later, I got the Tylenol home, we administered it and thankfully, a few hours later, her fever started to get under control. A few weeks later we began to learn about County Hospital services and California laws that provide all children in the state with health insurance (see the resources below). A few months later, I managed to get enough contract work to get us back on our feet. Eventually, we were fortunate to see things turn around for us.

I'd never recorded "Night of My Travail" with my band. When the latest economic crisis hit in 2008, I thought maybe I should pull it out and record it somewhere. Perhaps it could be comforting or cathartic to someone else. In June 2009 I experienced that stomach sucked out of the body pain again as my daughter contracted viral encephalitis and was literally fighting for her life. I've already written a bit about this in my previous blog, "Awakenings, colors and hope - What Glimmer is about". This was another crisis of faith, another challenge to our family's perseverance and another obstacle and threat to our marriage.

Coming through these trials, I wish I could say that I have more answers than questions. But the truth is, we're still walking through my daughter's recovery and only starting to surface much of the damage that has been done as a result of these challenging times. Damage such as the effects of trauma on a family, the dangers of medication's side effects on a survivor and fatigue associated with long term recovery for all involved. The voice in the song is not a voice of guidance but one of questions. All he knows is that he's lost and in dire need of encouragement and guidance. In our travels over the last year, we have met other individuals and families that are similarly struggling to care for sick, loved ones, who are drowning in their own, personal, economic crisis or who are simply without direction, hope or faith.  We are all asking questions, looking to find our way through a wilderness that doesn't seem to reveal a horizon we can walk towards with confidence and finality. There are no easy answers. But, I believe, there is hope and life in the asking of questions. I believe that someday there will be answers. Until then, the zombie cave will have to do.

Here are the lyrics to "Night of My Travail":

Tonight I'm crying out for some help.
I am calling from this place for some blessed assurance.
Oh my God please don't turn your face away.
In this night of my travail is your peace on its way?

I don't know how things turned out this way.
I thought I was on the road seeing clearly.
Now I'm lost and I feel so far away.
In this night of my travail does your light still point the way?

Tonight I'm reaching out to feed my soul.
I am aware of my starvation and I need relief.
Oh my God, please don't let me get in the way.
In this night of my travail will you hear this sinner pray?

Here are a couple of helpful resources for children in California who need health insurance:
 Zombie out!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Night of My Travail - a dark night of the soul

The idea of a "dark night of the soul" was originally written as the title of a poem by 16th century theologian and mystic, Saint John of the Cross. "Night of My Travail" is a telling of such a "dark night" experience, where the soul is in crisis, the well seems dry and life is quite zombie-like.

We'd love to get your comments or ratings for the tune on YouTube.