me

My therapist maybe as much as anyone else in my life is responsible for the person I am now.

A couple of months ago I learned my therapist is retiring. Last week I had my last session with him. Off and on for more than a decade, he has helped keep me on an even keel. Not only during the turbulent times of my life but also when its waters were calm.

When I arrived in Hawaii I was recovering from a not-so-small breakdown; one reason I moved here was to get away from a significant source of stress and heartbreak. With no plan to make Hawaii home, I came here to “sort my shit out,” which included seeking out therapy (and medication if need be). While I had been in worse shape not that long before arriving here, I was still pretty screwed up at that point.

Dysthymia and Pills

So, before I had any job or health insurance, I saw a doctor at Leahi Hospital in Kaimuki. I only went the one time. After some testing and questioning, the doctor there was the one who diagnosed me with Dysthymia. I knew then I couldn’t be casual about finding a regular doctor, but a steady job and health insurance were both important prerequisites.

The idea of “shopping for a shrink,” as I called it, was not remotely appealing to me. So I count myself incredibly lucky that I was able to find this doctor from a referral rather than by trial and error.

In the beginning, I was singularly focused on trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me. At the time I believed that if I could understand the root causes of my mental dysfunction, I would be able to make corrections.

Eventually, my therapist convinced it that the causes mattered less than getting better. I recall I resisted a causeless approach, but I was determined to get better. So I acquiesced.

In addition to an insistence on finding root causes of my dysfunction, I was fundamentally opposed to accepting any kind of medication. At the time, though a part of me really understood what it meant to be depressed, I didn’t think I needed medication to get sorted. And again, he convinced me it was worth a try.

And so I did.

For better or worse, it quickly became apparent that medication wasn’t going to help with what was wrong with me. For that I needed good, ol’ fashioned talking it out.

Off and On Maintenance

That was more than ten years ago.

Eventually, I got to the point where I didn’t think therapy had anything to offer me. After years of frequent and regular sessions, it felt like I was graduating to a new life. Or, at least a new perspective.

I was happy consistently for the first time I could remember. Or at least what seemed like happiness; I was content. And so it was for years. Until the wheels came off my wagon again and I resumed appointments.

After some time, I returned to my own equilibrium, but continued what I now refer to as “maintenance therapy.” Some weeks are better than others, and the regular check-ins have done a good job keeping said equilibrium.

I’m in pretty good shape now, for the most part. I don’t claim to be “fixed.” After several small relapses and at least one big one, I’ve accepted completely both the good and bad in me. Maybe I’ll be even better in the future, but for now… I’m good.

Retirement and Thanks

I’ve had doctors retire and relocate on me in other areas of my life. Since being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I’ve been passed along through four Gastroenterologists. While annoying, none of those changes necessitated a blog post.

My therapist, maybe as much as anyone else in my life is responsible for the person I am now. Maybe there will always be a part of me that is broken. But for the old me, for the former me that would have been enough to send me retreating to the dark corners of my brain. The now me both understands I might change and accepts if I don’t.

That may not sound like much of a revelation, but for me, it’s the difference between happiness/contentment and dysfunction.

So this retirement and changing of the doctoral guard is, for me, much more meaningful. Poignant. I am thankful for who I am now. I like me. And for being able to say that I have my therapist to thank. While an appointment to a new therapist is pending, it’s hard to imagine I will be as lucky to have another that I like and so appreciate.

Change, for me, is somewhat challenging and this change is no different. I write this to remind me of the good work I did with him. The work he did with me. And to say thanks.

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Politics is how I enter the world. But music is how I live in and escape it. I may not be able to play an instrument as flawless as the people on stage, but I sure have an exquisite taste when it comes to listening to music. I recently got a turntable by reading a post written by Robert Halvari and quite frequently listen to old vinyls, which remind me of my childhood. This wasn’t always the case, though. I’m not one of those people who was born with a passion.

I have memories about playfully arguing about “old” versus “new” music with my mom when I was pretty young, but my awakening, as it were, didn’t occur until my early teens. It was the summer of 1992 and I was spending the summer with dad, stepmom, and (step)sister. Preparing for a road trip to Michigan, I can recall going to a music store; it was probably my sister’s idea.

Though I don’t recall what she left with, I remember distinctly her recommending to me The Final Cut, by Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t already a fan, but I thought my sister was so cool that I would have eagerly listened to anything she suggested. It might be the very first album I ever purchased and played on the audio and video equipment which my dad had recently got installed in the living room with the help of a few professional equipment installers.

And thus began my obsession with Pink Floyd and my love of music of all kinds.

In high school, nearly all the money I had was spent on CDs. In college, I would spend countless hours browsing and downloading songs on Napster.

Over the last week, I was banging my head struggling to find something to write. Nothing. Nothing came to mind that sparked any creativity in me. Then, while browsing Facebook, I came across this:

Automatic Unearthed

Inspiration.

Automatic For The People, by R.E.M., celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. When it was released in October of 1992, I was 14 years old. At the time, my music collection was in its infancy; I’ve owned this album longer than nearly any other. And while I am a fan of the band, no other album of theirs comes close to matching the brilliance and beauty of this masterpiece.

The Music

I completely geek-out on stuff like that 25-minute documentary. And other things, too. Earworm is a series of videos published by Vox News. It is great and geeky. Some of them I’ve watched more than once.

In a similar vein, while feeding one of my other geeky pleasures, The West Wing, by listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast, I learned about another brilliantly obsessive music podcast: Song Exploder. In this podcast, the musicians break down their songs, the inspiration for and the process of their creation.

Even more basic than these, sometimes I’ll spend hours on YouTube bouncing from one music video to another: weird covers, original videos, live concerts. And I’ll obsess over lyrics, listening to a song over and over until I’ve got them down. Then I’ll poke around the inter-webs reading about the real or perceived meaning of those lyrics.

The Technology

It’s not just the music that’s important, but how I experience it.

Toward the end of college, as my appreciation grew, I wanted to hear music better. I wanted it louder and with better quality and clarity, so I bought my first hi-fi stereo system: an Onkyo 5-Disc changer, 5.1 surround receiver, two tower speakers and a sub-woofer. I loved that thing. Almost more than family and friends, when I moved to Hawaiʻi I was sad to leave it behind.

But I don’t spend much time at home, honestly, so the possession of high-quality headphones has been important to me for a while. Over the years, I’ve owned a range of brands from Bose to Sennheiser, to my current pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones.

I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of my music listening experience, both at home and on the go. At home, I’m contemplating a return to a purer time: buying a turntable and building a collection of vinyl albums. Such a setup is absent the ease of shuffling through the more than 5100 MP3s on my computer. But as I sit here, writing this, and listening to that seminal album by R.E.M. from beginning to end, I’m thinking it might be worth it.

For my days away from the house, I’ve been eyeballing a tiny Bluetooth amplifier from bluewave. See, my iPhone doesn’t provide enough power to properly drive my ATH-M50x’s.

My Life

My brain, my memories, feelings… are all built on music. There is nothing else in this world that can dig up real emotion for me like music can. Beyond that, I can’t concentrate without music playing somewhere. Silent libraries are for other people.

Though it doesn’t really surprise me; I wrote similarly on this topic nearly a decade ago:

I can’t say I internalize or absorb songs, because often times I can’t accurately recall lyrics, notes, melodies, or rhythm without hearing at least part of the song. It’s like every song I like or love is simply indexed in my brain and hearing a part of it pulls the rest from countless neurons.

Songs themselves can serve as indexes for memories. Numerous songs serve as indexes for places, people, and events in my life. Hearing such a song immediately puts me back in that place. Or numerous memories regarding a particular person can come flooding back to me from simply hearing a few notes of a certain song. These memories are vivid; I can recall facial expressions, furniture arrangements, the time of day, voices, clothing, etc. Yes, songs serve as place holders for my notoriously bad memory.

And because I love music so much, I even do my own lip-sync videos; I’ll sing along and dance around my house, so why not occasionally share that joy with others. Check them out.

My emotional drive to make the world better led me to a life in politics, but music makes me smile. And cry. And dance.

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Yesterday was a day of opposites. A day of ups and downs. At different times yesterday, I was in tears and heartbroken. In other moments, my heart was filled with hope and love and optimism.

In the morning, I attended a memorial service for my friend and mentor, Flo Kong Kee. She was one of the first people I met when I first got involved in local politics. I was a foreigner. I was a haole from Kansas who wanted to work to make Hawaii (and the world) a better, more equitable place for everyone.

Flo welcomed me, mentored me, and listened to me. She had more love for Hawaii and its people, culture, and land more than anyone else I met here. She was more determined, driven, and filled with aloha than anyone else I worked with. When she struggling with personal illness, when she was worn-out, was on the losing end of important battles, she was never bitter. She was never without hope. Even in those times, especially in those time, she was always smiling, optimistic and thinking about what comes next.

We didn’t always agree on issues, on policy priorities or how to reach our goals. But I never doubted her commitment to working people, to making Hawaii better for everyone.

She was taken from us far too early. And I regret never sharing with her how much she meant to me and how much I valued and respected her.

After the memorial, I walked a few blocks through Waikiki back to where the Kuleana Academy was meeting. And I spent a good portion of the rest of the day with the group participating in the third cohort. The people in this group come from all over the state, from different backgrounds, from different experiences.

I also participated in Kuleana Academy earlier in the year, learning and growing with a wonderful and dynamic group of people.

Yesterday and during previous weekends, I sat in the back of the room, listening to this group of people talking story, questioning each other and learning from each other. I talk to this current cohort and smile and feel inspired.

Then, as the sun set and the day crept to its conclusion, I witnessed their graduation from the program. And I couldn’t help but be hopeful for our future. I am so excited to continue to get to know this fantastic group of people and work with them for the betterment of Hawaii and the most disadvantaged of those who live here.

It was a hard and hopeful day. I will miss Flo and am sad she isn’t here to help us shape a better future for Hawaii, but we will persevere. Imua!

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You may notice my blog has, yet again, a new look.

You will for a little while, see links that may appear to go nowhere, or don’t make any sense. To get things looking exactly how I want takes time…. More time than I can commit to in any one sitting.

So, please continue to enjoy my blog while some minor construction and edits are on-going.

I hope to begin writing regular posts again soon.

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If you haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge, see it.

I started to write a simple Facebook post, but thought better of it. There’s more I want to say than I think should go there. So, I’ve decided to write a proper blog post. My first in months.

Generally, I don’t like movies that glorify war. I don’t condone war. Or the death penalty. Or really violence of any kind. But this movie doesn’t glorify war. Not really.

It’s about a man, a Seven Day Adventist, who doesn’t believe in killing. For any reason. But he decides to enlist in the Army during World War II as a medic. His faith and conviction allowed him to save 75 wounded men.

He never picked up a weapon and never took a life.

I admit to a sensitive side (don’t tell anyone), but rarely to I shed more than a tear at the most emotionally wrenching scenes. But I cried at more than one point as I watched.

As the 140-minute movie ended, watching real-life accounts from just a few of the men he saved and of Desmond himself, I thought about my own pacifist convictions.

Unlike Desmond Doss, I don’t believe in the notion of a “just war.” He didn’t believe in killing, but saw the war as justified and wanted to do his part. Without killing anyone. Despite my belief, however, after watching this movie I couldn’t help but wonder about the strength of my own conviction. What would I be willing to sacrifice to avoid committing violence? Or to prevent someone else from committing violence?

The answer is simple; I don’t know.

But if I don’t know the answer to those questions, I’m forced to wonder just how strong my convictions are. Maybe no one really knows until their put in an impossible situation.

In the end, I guess it’s just ethical or philosophical theory. Either way, I’ll close where I began. See Hacksaw Ridge. You won’t regret it.

And if you can get to the end without sobbing, you’re stronger than I.

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