Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reflections On Being Happy

Scientists aboard U.S. NASA Shuttle Discovery on Mission S116 to the ISS.

“As I've gone through life, I've found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old.”

  • Three-time Academy Award winner Walter Murch interviewed in The Conversations - Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
  • by Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient

For me it was music.

From age eight through thirteen, I sang in the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus. Under the baton of Jeff Haskell we were world-class artists, touring throughout the United States & Canada, hitting the studio to record, then filming an Easter Special for CBS, touring England & Scotland, appearing on the BBC. We sang in the world's best concert halls and the critics opened their hearts and pens to our young pure voices.

We of course were anything but pure. But I loved music and I had a genuine world-class a first alto. My voice broke two days before I turned 14 and my one year of touring with the TABC Touring Group at 13 was my last. (I am now an adequate baritone, with delusions of singing second tenor. But I had the voice of an angel, if not the temperament.)

Starting at 12 there was sex and violence and by 14.5 it had swept me completely up into a different dangerous world. But before my life was swept up by testosterone, not to settle down into being anything more than a protracted teenager quite literally for 31 years, I was a choir boy and I loved music first before everything.

I didn't think this assignment had much for me. Just thought I could throw it together quickly, then get back to sleep, wake up tomorrow and surf the comment thread, dropping in bits of wisdom occasionally. I'm such a jackass.

Not only has it taken me four hours just to write (so far), the more I dwell in it, the more shit from my past comes up to be dealt with. Aaaargh! Stupid assignment.

I love writing for the Group News Blog. One might say (and I often do) my entire life has been training for this gig. Even two years ago I wouldn't have been ready. I know Lower Manhattanite and Hubris Sonic feel much the same way -- we've spent our entire lives, unknowingly, preparing ourselves for this opportunity.

Working with Fernando Flores, Ph.D. in my late 20s, early 30s was terrific, but I was still an arrogant fool (Yes, more than I sometimes am now. Really. Shut up.) Being on Staff for that LGAT in my mid 20s was amazing (even if they were & their successor company remains massively controversial) but I was screwing everyone who moved and got my ass fired, twice, a very smart move on their part. Still, I loved giving my heart over totally to something (someone), even though in retrospect my trust was naive & misplaced (not good) (and I betrayed my colleagues by screwing around; double not good.) The amount of affection the Staff had for each other, the results we produced inside that trust; astonishing. Like the love veterans have for each other.

Few of my paramedic experiences were joyous, except the moment of delivering babies. In the end I stopped being a medic because I was burned out and no longer competent (Accuracy of 80-85% in most fields is fine. Heh. But I'd lost my edge and just couldn't get it back, and the more we tried the worse I got.) The paramedics in Oakland recognized my symptoms and made me quit. Worked dispatch for a little over half a year (memory fades), then was gone. Took over ten, closer to twelve years for the memories to stop having command value when triggered, waking me up, stop moving for cover on certain noises. I still get crazy about certain drivers (which look like drive-bys in progress), and just hate being inside crowds, especially mall crowds at holidays. I don't watch television or movies which take me back to those long years of being a medic, and I don't stop to help hurt people unless it's serious and there simply is no one else. I'll do what I must when it must be done; otherwise I'm done.

Same with my military tours. I did my duty and that's that. I address military issues here at GNB because it's political and we're a political blog. I work with troubled vets because they're my brothers and sisters at heart.

Without question, the most joy in my life were the years I spent singing for Mr. Haskell. He didn't accept excuses. We either had what it took or we didn't. Credentials? At ten? Don't be silly. Yet he demanded competence of us which would be difficult -- I know now -- of experienced vocalists singing professionally as studio musicians day in and out, or in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Mr. Haskell believed in us and under his baton we flourished, growing from boys into young teens with confidence and poise quite literally able to take the world stage under spotlights and sing as though the Gods were lending us voice.

And for a few years, they did.

I was happy. I was thirteen years old, music permeated my heart, and I was happy.

Now, here at Group News Blog, thirty-five years later, I am happy. I am forty-eight years old and happy. Even more, I am a full-grown adult, full of joy and love, and have no anger towards anyone, not even those assholes in the Bush Administration. (I am past anger with them at the bottom of everything. I have compassion for the lost souls they are, and for all the souls they've taken with them. Read Maggie for more.)

This work challenges me every day. I'm running a media startup with partners I trust! We have readers I cherish who trust us. (And all but one child has moved out of the house. Heh. Now if they'd just stop bring home stray kittens. Grrr. Including the two-legged kind.) Our dreams for what GNB can become are enormous, yet day to day we are grounded solidly in the hard work of turning out quality journalism. This is joy unbounded. This is waking up happy in a way I long ago forgot was even possible.

GNB Media is the work each of us has spent our life preparing -- to be the kind of human being you trust to bring you truth through noise.

Yet creating this assignment which I though was, um, not for me (jackass; really, it's the only word which fits) I realize even here at GNB where I'm happy for the first time at best since I was in my mid-20s and on Staff (raising children is a different kind of happy; I love my children, but I wasn't ever personally happy in my life since a long long time ago), and at worst, since I was 13, a full 35 years ago... I realized in writing this post, that even now, I don't have music.


I have writing. I have cycling with my children. I have movies which have music. I have photographs; almost every post depends in significant part on the photograph. We have videos we put up. I have books; I've always had books; air, water, books, food. In that order. I have over 700 DVD's here in my room alone, many of them a full year-long series, that is 22 episodes in one DVD case, and probably 50-75 musicals, including The Commitments, one of the best musicals ever made. But I don't have music. And even when I do listen to music -- I have iTunes on my computer with probably 500 songs -- that just isn't MUSIC to me.

Music for me is performing music. Making music, singing music and playing it on the piano, singing it with other people, standing at a microphone and hearing someone count down the beat. Getting a rhythm going off the drums which the piano picks up, the base player joins, then the clarinet comes in with a sweet, soft riff while the horns slide in behind as the backup singers smile sweetly schoolin' all the girls and more than one boy not to mention several stage hands and a assistant producer named Sam. Then the lead singer spins, growwwwls in the mic, tears down the house, and the place goes bug.freaking.wild. Music! What my mom used to do as the Assistant Concert Master in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, practicing for days and days, then sitting down with 100 other people and bringing it together LIVE for 3,500 people. Or when Elton or George Harrison came to town, Mom playing her violin just off stage in the Tucson Arena, for 20,000.

Music happens at the piano in my living room, alone or in a duet, trio or quartet in the practice room at the Juilliard School, Berklee College of Music, a conservatory, with other people in a rehearsal hall or on stage. Music is something created, something actively listened to, not background listening distracting me from life. When I'm walking, in conversation or focused at work, I don't want music pulling me away. Music is too important for it ever to be background noise from a top-40 computer playlist. It can't be just part of life. Music is life. Before writing, music.

I don't have an answer to this. It's part of why I love Venna Teng SO much. She loves, simply loves playing live. For her, live shows make people happy. Making people happy is music. Music cuts emotionally straight to the bone.

The deeper I go, the more Walter Murch seems right on point. In the midst of everything else... music -- live music: music I perform and listen to -- suddenly occurs as missing.

Damn. Going to have to do something about that.

How about you?
  • Are you happy?
  • Does your work reflect your dreams and aspirations?
  • Do your relationships, at home and in life, bring you joy?
  • In your late childhood - early teens, what did you love most?
  • Does anything in your life now presence what you gave your heart to as a young person?
  • What do you imagine your life might be like if you had that present in your life again?
  • What would it take? What's stopping you? (Chop away all the excuses; now chop away anything that wouldn't stop you if your life or someone you loves was at stake.)
  • Now ask again: How much or how little would it truly take to give your heart away to that which you've always loved?
This week's assignment:
Give your heart away to that which you love, that which brings you joy.

What does this conversation presence for you?