Thursday, July 23, 2015

the scattered pieces

We all change in many ways throughout our lives--many changes are borne about slowly through time and we never notice them.  The laugh lines deepen in our faces, our skin becomes weathered (or chemically altered...oops!).  Some changes happen in an instant and our very outlook on life is shattered at a new revelation.

In more ways than I could have imagined, I am a radically different person from who I was only four years ago.

In junior year of college (2010) my roommate at the time, Mark, asked me very sincerely on the way to Founders one Monday night:
"Are you happy Steve?"
At the time, my answer had been something along the lines of:
"Yes, mostly.  Sometimes I wish I didn't spend so much time studying.  Sometimes I wish I had gone out and done more stupid stuff, but I don't regret the choices I've made."
I've since gone back to that question periodically and re-evaluated my life.

My answer during the last three years has been:
"Um. Yes?"
"No.  Kinda yes?  In many ways yes...but permeated with suffocating dread."
There came a point at which my ability to put up with circumstances, people and being healthy emotionally hit a wall.  My self-confidence had been gradually eroded away and crushed months before this point.

The only things really holding me together were my family (as best they could from 500 miles away), my friends (who I would have crumbled to pieces without) and whatever tattered and paltry faith in God I was unsure I wanted to cling to.

When that moment came, I made a decision.  Many people make this same decision, for many and more reasons: to leave graduate school.  In a way I was lucky--I left with a well respected degree in a field I love from a great school.  I struggled with the initial perceived failure of what that choice meant for months.  I don't regret it any more, though I did at first.

August of 2014 began my struggle to pick up the pieces of what I thought my life would become.  It was when I began to try and find meaning in who I was, what I wanted, and who I would become.

Looking back over the last 11 months, I evaluate again that inexorable question:
"Are you happy Steve?"
This time, my answer is longer, more nuanced, and accompanied by an Oxford comma.

Now I can say that I am happy.
I can say that I'm not looking helpless and confused at the floor and the pieces scattered there.
The person in the mirror has deeper laugh lines, and lines from anxiety (the stress tic has been gone for over 6 months!), but there is a new kind of confidence there--not naive and stupidly brave, but rebuilt and with experience.

I have many people to thank for this change; many to thank for happy, confident, peace:
Close friends, new and old.
They challenge me, they love me, they hear me and they know me.
We talk together, eat together, we drink together (way too much!).
We grieve many things together--death of the very old and the impossibly young, infidelity, and shattered friendships--and we come through to the other side.
Supervisors that see the good and better in me--that let me figure out how to be more excellent.
They give me crazy opportunities I would have never imagined.
They trust me to take on projects seemingly too big for me too soon, that were just right.
Mentors that remind me of my strengths and encourage me in my weaknesses.

With that, today I can say I'm the person I want to be--satisfied with who I am--looking to do the next hardest thing I can find, and simultaneously terrified at the prospect!
I'm not anxiously looking for anyone to 'complete' me (even though people love to ask if I'm seeing anyone, haha!), because they'll be pretty obvious to me when I see them.
My emotions are healthier.
My people are beautiful--they are the friends that I have always wished for.
My family is finally close to me.
My faith is a work in progress, different, shrunk and grown, expanded and with punctures and scars--but I still have it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy my coworkers continue to insist on making jokes about assassinating our president?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Sneeze at the Sun

I wanted to get more serious about recording music, so I decided to do a little cover album of some of my favorite songs using my baritone ukulele exclusively.  The result is "Sneeze at the Sun," a humble little offering that taught me a lot.  Forewarning, my voice is very "eh," but I refuse to doctor it...sorry.

Music recording is fun.  All you need is a snowball and some audacity.

Schwarz zu Blau has been one of my favorite songs since my coworker Dirk introduced it to me in 2010 when I worked at BI.  Peter Fox and Seeed were some of his favorites, along with die Fantastischen Vier.  I've been rapping it (when I'm alone) since that summer--it seemed like something fun to set to ukulele.  It was also really helpful in expanding and developing my ability to converse in German.  I learn new things every time I pick up a new song.  The Berlin hiphop/reggae scene is strong.  Check out Marteria (YT) if you like Peter Fox.
[lyrics][youtube (Peter Fox)][my cover]

I Walked from The Age of Adz is from the point of view of a former lover--the things they want to say, but can't.  It might be from separation or from death.  Either way, it's beautiful and hauntingly poignant--easily my favorite song from the album.  I listened to it a lot in college.  This is my acoustic, and much faster version.  I'm still not sure what to think about the speed.  Some days I wish I had slowed it down, other days I like it zippy.  Whatevs.

I got a kind of ethereal voice effect by simply recording 4 tracks each for the right and left sides (I sang it 8 times--you have to be careful to sing it almost identically each time if possible).  I did this with all of the vocals on my album, but only this one has more than 1 vocal track for each side.  This technique also helped me overcome the difficulty in covering Sufjan, because his voice is wayyyyy better than mine--it enables you to kind of average out your voice over a few takes to make it sound better when they're combined (it's all my voice undoctored, but layered over top of other takes).
[lyrics][youtube (Sufjan Stevens)][my cover]

Hallelujah is one of the first songs I grew comfortable playing on my first uke and I love just playing and singing it whenever.  Cohen's original and Buckley's cover are my favorites.
[lyrics][youtube (Buckley)][youtube (Cohen)][my cover]

Free Fallin' by Petty brings me back to high school and Young Life and much of what is good from that time.  Free Fallin' reminds me of when I learned to love well from my friend Justin.  It brings back people and emotion and silliness--I still want to glide down over Mulholland.
[lyrics][youtube (Tom Petty)][my cover]

Mighty to Save is one of those songs that describes me at multiple points in my life--how I feel about myself and interact with others.  If I had a mission statement about how I viewed my life as a Christian, this could be it.
[lyrics][youtube (Hillsong UNITED)][my cover]

Black Sun was introduced to me recently by my friend Nate.  It struck me first because of the melancholy chords--I live off sad dark sounding songs--and stuck with me due to the way it describes the complexity and grey of our lives.  Life is paradox and Death Cab doesn't try to explain it; lack of explanation gives this track meaning and power to me--it's failure and hope.
[lyrics][youtube (DCFC official)][youtube (DCFC acoustic)][my cover]