How Music Saved My Soul

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Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

I bought my first guitar when I was 13 years old. I still have it. It’s a Fender acoustic, and it’s an absolute nightmare to play. It has taken so much of a beating over the years that it’s not even worth fixing, but I will always keep it because it reminds me of when I started on something that would, one day in my 30s, save my soul from eternal depression and boredom.

I played guitar through high school and college, and a little bit in my 20s, but I never took it seriously. I never wrote songs or played in a band. I remember in 2011 and I was just starting my writing career, I thought that it wouldn’t be realistic to have two creative outlets (writing and music), and that I should focus on one. I choose writing, as you can see. Lately, however, I’m starting to think I made the wrong choice.

Over the past year I’ve been practising religiously, sometimes for as much as 3 or 4 hours in a day. I’ve not just been noodling my time away. I’ve been building my knowledge of the instrument, doing exercises, running drills, learning complete songs, and memorizing scales. I’ve been focusing on weak areas of my playing and improving them. I’ve been looking for new techniques and adding them to my repertoire, practising all the different aspects of musicianship from ear training to songwriting. Lately I’ve been going to open mics and I’ve even met some like-minded musicians and we’re starting a rock band.

This is what I have always wanted!  Perhaps it’s what I always should have been: a rock star. I have been having an absolute blast playing guitar and making music, I’m starting to have misgivings about my decision to become a journalist. They say you should do what you love and pursue what makes you happy. Well, I love making music and it has become an incredible source of endless joy in my life. Writing has never made me feel the way that music does. They are worlds apart. Music is fun and brings people together. Writing is thankless work, and a solitary task.

There was a time in my life very recently when I felt as though music was the only thing keeping me sane. Last year I was ready to hang up my freelance writing hat for good. I was severely burned out, and I had lost a lot of clients so the money wasn’t flowing as it once did. I had lost my enthusiasm for writing and I was out of ideas. I needed to do something else, so I ended up getting a job at a cosmetics manufacturer.

I was working on a production line making barely more than minimum wage. It was honestly the most tedious and monotonous job I have ever had in my life; nothing but mindless, repetitive tasks for 8 hours a day and a complete lack of autonomy since every aspect of the work was dictated. It was the polar opposite of being a freelance writer.

I needed a break at the time, but this line of work made me profoundly unhappy. During these difficult days working on a factory line I always had music in my head. It was the only way for me to get through the day without going insane. All day on the line I’d be singing a song in my head, imagining guitar solos and lyrics, conjuring melodies that I might use in my own playing. I worked afternoons, so I had mornings to myself, and I always took the time to practise guitar for several hours. The only good thing that came out of all this was that it enabled me to practise like I had never practised before, and now I’m far better with the instrument than I have ever been.

I am certain that if not for music in my life, I would have quit that job in under a month. In a life where I have no one in my corner offering moral support, music is always there. It saved my soul from eternal depression and boredom. There were times when all I could think of was walking out of that place and never going back. I was constantly pissed off and unhappy with what my life had become. I Want To Break Free by Queen became my anthem. I wanted nothing more than to break free from that miserable factory job.

Now that I have broken free, I’ve finally found people to start a band with. I’m going to open mics, and I feel as though I have finally found “my tribe”; something I’ve been missing for so long. Somehow, I have not found my tribe in the world of writers and journalists.

This is the thing that really drives me, and it doesn’t feel like an insufferable chore like that factory job, or like the freelance work I was doing before. Now that I’ve got music in my heart, I will never let it go. Music saved my soul, and for that I’m forever grateful.

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What it’s like to be addicted to pot

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Last weekend I went to a video game party at a friend’s place. About 10 of us were gathered in their living room and kitchen area of their townhouse with all our gaming computers hooked up and blasting so much heat exhaust into the room it was almost like a sauna.

The day before I had purchased some weed since it was 4/20, the stoner holiday, and early on I pulled some out and asked if anyone wanted to smoke. To my chagrin, no one was interested. Even still, I packed my friends pipe, went downstairs, and got stoned by myself.

We played video games for hours and hours. Counterstrike, Chivalry, Tekken, and many others. But as day turned into night I became increasingly tired. I was already fried from the day before since I smoked several joints on 4/20, and then another joint in the morning before the party, and now with all the beers I was drinking and the bowl I had smoked downstairs, I became despondent and drowsy. Eventually all I could think about was going home so I could sleep it off. I was not my usual jovial and energetic self.

At just 10pm I announced that I was leaving. I had plans for the next day so I couldn’t stay the night as I usually did, and the commute back to my place was quite long since part of the subway line was shut down that weekend for upgrades. When I got home I had a cup of tea, relaxed for a bit, and then slept for about 10 hours. Even though I slept so long, I was still fried the next morning.

Why this insistence in smoking weed so much, and so often, even when my friends declined the offer, and even when I have no one else to partake in the ritual with? Why smoke so much to the point where it essentially ruins my ability to even have a good time with my friends?

Well, the answer is simple. It’s because I’m psychologically addicted to weed and have been for over a decade now. It is the one monkey on my back that I just can’t shake. Try as I will, I have not been able to break this addiction. I have thrown away paraphernalia, erased dealers’ numbers, flushed weed down the toilet, and made grand proclamations about quitting many times only to fall off the wagon after a few weeks. Even though I know it’s causing negative life outcomes, preventing me from self-actualizing and reaching my highest potential, I persist in this useless habit. Why?

The root of all addiction is the need to escape some sort of emotional or psychological pain. Every addict has a secret pain. It’s what drives their addiction. People who are happy and fulfilled in their lives generally don’t become drug addicts. There is something missing, something that torments the user into continuing their addiction even though they realize it’s destructive and putting their health at risk. Addiction is a powerful demon with iron hooks to dig deep into your mind and soul.

If you have a longstanding addiction to cannabis as I do, quitting can be exceptionally challenging in a world where weed is becoming socially acceptable and even legalized in many places. Where I live, pot isn’t legal yet but there are many grey market dispensaries around town where anyone can buy from as easily as you go to the beer store for a six-pack. In fact, there is a dispensary down the street from where I live. If I were so inclined, I could walk out the door right now and have a bag of weed in my hand in approximately 10 minutes.

Most people can smoke weed without any problems, but studies have shown that 9% of people who consume cannabis become addicted to it. The likelihood of addiction increases with the age that you begin smoking (the younger you are, the more likely you are to become addicted. I started at age 17), frequency of consumption, methods of consumption, other underlying mental health factors, and socioeconomic status.

I am one of the unlucky few. My battle with this addiction is on my mind every day. Cravings come up and I try to beat them back down. I pass by a dispensary on the bus or on a streetcar and avert my eyes so as not to think about going in there. I am always thinking of how and why and when to quit the habit for good, and what a difference it will make in my life if I could just stay the course.

Most of all I wonder what kind of a person I would be if I didn’t smoke. I wonder where I would be in life if I never even started. Would I be wealthier? Happier? More successful? Would I have a family and a house? Would I be a successful author or musician? Weed famously robs you of your motivation and focus, and it deadens your emotions which are so essential in directing your path through life. It’s safe to say that I would be further ahead in life if I quit this useless habit long ago.

I have come to know what the source of my own pain is, and why I continue to smoke weed. It’s the torment of loneliness that haunts me every day. I smoke to escape the suffering this causes me. Indeed, loneliness is an epidemic in our modern society and young men particularly are vulnerable to it.

The cravings are especially strong at night. It’s when I’m alone at home that I feel it most. I may be reading a book, or writing something, or playing guitar, or watching a movie, but really I wish I had someone to share my time with, that someone would be there for me and make my world feel less small, and less cold. I feel as though something is missing, so I fill the void with drugs again and again. Night after night. Day after day. I am running from my pain. I smoke weed when really what I want is a relationship.

Like any addict I use drugs to escape my suffering, but life is suffering. Life is full of pain and difficulties and hardships and it will beat you down if you let it. To beat my addiction, I must embrace my suffering; allow it to cover me and run through me, and when I’m on the other side I will be much better off.

If my emotions are driving me to find a relationship, then I should go out and find a relationship and not numb myself into a state of apathy with pot. Although I know it’s hard, and I’ll be rejected many times, that’s a necessary form of suffering to endure. I suffer if I live this secret life of drugs, and I suffer in another way if I put myself out there.

Life is suffering. It’s how we respond to our suffering that allows us to give it meaning and grow as individuals. If we endure, we rise through it as better people. That makes all the difference.

The Crisis of Creativity

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artistI’ve always been creative. I started writing poetry when I was 10, I took up the guitar when I was 13, and I went to school for journalism when I was 22. I’ve always looked up to the great creative geniuses of history to find inspiration in their works, and to find guideposts to direct my own journey. I find great satisfaction in creative endeavors, but there is one immutable problem with pursuing such goals on a professional basis: creative work is almost impossible to monetize.

This is what U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson calls “the crisis of creativity”. When you’re a creative person, you have to be creative. If you ignore your creative drive it eats you up inside and it will continue to gnaw away at you until you finally channel that impulse into some kind of meaningful work.

All my life I’m driven to do creative things; I write and play guitar. Although I may take a break from time to time, or I may grow frustrated and want to give it up, I always come back becuase without a creative outlet I feel empty. Unless I write or make music I feel as though there is something missing in my life, and that I have commited a grievous sin by ignoring this intrinsic need to create. Read the rest of this entry »

The Meaning of Rime

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Several months ago Rime was offered for free on PS4 to everyone with a PS+ account. Since I pay the $12/month for the service I always check what free games are available every month, and I was sure to download this one and try it out.

It’s an adventure game similar to Journey, in that there is no combat but you have to solve a lot of puzzles and explore all kinds of strange and beautiful environments. It’s a visually impressive game with an evocative score that elevates the many moods and settings of the adventure.

Spoiler alerts ahead. The game is divided into five chapters: Denial, Aggression, Bargaining, Depression, and Guilt. These are, of course, the five stages of grief. The game takes us through each of these five stages as they are reflected in the environments, in the puzzles, and in the music.

For example, in Aggression you rouse a giant dinosaur-like bird who proceeds to attack you and chase you throughout the chapter. In Bargaining you have to solve a number of mind-bending puzzles that involve placing orbs on pedestals.  In Depression, the world is soaked in a torrential rainfall. Then, in Acceptance, the final chapter, the game completely changes.

Throughout the game the hero is a young boy with a red cape, but in this final chapter you’re a full grown man living alone in a house on the island. You enter a room which appears to be a child’s bedroom. You pick up a teddy bear and reflect on it for a moment, but when you try to leave the room you turn back and see the ghost of the boy sitting on the bed. You sit next to him, embrace him. The boy is your son. As you release your embrace, you hold the tattered red scrap of cloth that he wore but his ghost is gone.

Alone, you go to the window and look out at the beach and the tropical island beyond, but the image is blurry and dull. With one last mournful look at the red cloth, you hold it up into the wind and let go. The cloth catches the ocean breeze and drifts away, never to be seen again. But then something wonderful happens: the island outside your window becomes clearer, brighter, shaper. The call of a seabird rings out, and the game ends.

That is the true message of the game: when you let go of the things that are holding you back your world becomes so much brighter. It’s so rare to find a video game with a real, insightful message behind it, so I was very moved by this. The entire game, a game which had no dialogue at all, finally made sense.

I looked up what people were saying about Rime online, but I was disappointed to see some people didn’t care for the ending. “It left me a little flat,” one person wrote. That’s a shame, becuase there is a valuable message to be learned here. I guess they didn’t get it. Maybe, they will on their next playthrough.

 

 

Forget the money. Do great work.

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The first freelance article I ever wrote appeared on TheGridTO.com, and I never got paid for it. It was a short news hit about The Occult Shop’s new location on Bathurst Street, which was just down the road from where I lived at the time so it was an easy piece to write. I felt so cool going down there with my old dictaphone and a notepad, interviewing the dreadlocked store owner, and taking photos of all the witchcraft paraphernalia on the shelves and in the display cases. I was new to the game, so just the excitement of writing the story and seeing my byline was payment enough. The money didn’t matter to me. All I cared about was doing great work.

The attitude I held as an absolute novice was correct, but over the ensuing years I lost this attitude and started to care more about how much money I was going to make instead of doing the most meaningful and impactful work that I could do. This lead to extreme stress and unhappiness because, as you may already know, it is difficult to make a living as a writer, or in any creative field for that matter. There’s a lot of competition out there and over the years I discovered that most outlets don’t pay much for content. Time and time again I was disgusted at the rock bottom rates I was offered and turned down many possible gigs becuase it wasn’t worth it. I should not have even applied to those gigs if all I cared about was money.

The want of money is the lowest motivation one can have in pursuing meaningful work. How many people have you known or heard about, people who are wealthy or famous, who are absolutely miserable and depressed and in rehab centers recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism? These are people who would seem to have everything going for them. They have to means to afford just about anything that life could offer, but they are still unhappy and looking for an escape. Why? Read the rest of this entry »