Nails – A Tribute : 30 Days of Truth

Day 13 : A band or artist that has gotten you through some tough days. (write a letter.)

Trent Reznor receiving an award for truly remarkable music.

Preface: In the liner notes of Pretty Hate Machine, the first studio album by Nine Inch Nails, there is a statement that says, “Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.” Indeed, it is. This is why I address this letter as such, though I would like to include every person that ever had a hand in his projects. They were also important in making his music happen.

Dear Trent Reznor,

Yes, I am indeed very young to be following your career. I ask you to dismiss any immediate notions of some kid fan looking to “find a voice” or “find an image to latch on to”. Fifteen years ago, that may have appeared to be the case. However, I advised any who made the accusation that it wasn’t a phase, and in my age group, it certainly wasn’t a fad. The music spoke to me, and I took a lot of shit to pride myself as a fan in my peer group. It wasn’t about a popular song, attraction, lifestyle, or any of that bullshit nonsense. It was the lyrics and the music, not the man or the movement.

I sincerely doubt that you will ever personally read this letter. It’s not a matter of dismissal, or anything of the like. I realize the intense focus, schedule, and deadlines that must accompany such incredible success. However, I’d like to assure you this isn’t one of those stalker letters, but only a fan tribute. And, of course, an exercise of prompt response to a blog project. If it wasn’t for this prompt, I may have never written this at all. That is, despite the fact that there is much in my personal life that I can attribute to the music.

Today, I am a part-time music teacher at a local inner city youth program here in Pittsburgh, PA. I am aware that you are local to the area, which is another reason the music is personal to me. You grew up in the area, therefore you were aware of the lifestyle and culture of the region and how it affects a person. But, that wasn’t the only personal connection. In the seventh grade, though music had been a lifelong passion, I became symptomatic with a mood disorder. A deep depression was ravaging through my life, taking each passion away from me. It took one man, my band instructor Warren Sullivan, to convince me otherwise.

One day, he took the class to the Piano Graveyard, a hallway behind the auditorium where old, detuned and broken pianos went to die. He wanted us to experiment with sound, though most of us had never touched a piano in our lives. I sat at a piano bench, disinterested in just about everything, including that exercise. Others plucked at sour keys, and some just pounded the pianos in the effort to make as much noise as possible. Mr. Sullivan sat down beside me, clearly as downtrodden as I was. I looked up at him and noticed this awful look of defeat and resignation.

We didn’t speak for a few moments, just poked at keys together. And this was the first time a teacher had addressed me personally, as an equal. He said, “Have you ever had anything really bad happen to you?” I nodded. He asked, “So bad that it changed your entire life?” Again, I nodded. He told me a story, a secret as to why he would be unlikely to return the following year. I liked the guy, and it was difficult to swallow.

And he said to me, “Did you know that I knew Trent?”

It took me aback. “Really?”

“Yeah, we were in a college band together,” he replied.

“So, what happened?” I eagerly inquired.

Mr. Sullivan look uncomfortable for a moment, but continued timidly, “We had creative differences.”

I noted, “I could see that.”

We were quiet again for a moment, and he admitted, “Do you know what the last thing I ever said to Trent was?”

“What?”

“Trent Reznor, you will never amount to anything!” He paused, then continued, “I guess I was mistaken. And that’s something I live with every time I hit a bad spot in my career.”

“Wow,” I breathed. It was really powerful. But, it taught me a valuable lesson. Go with what feels right and where my heart takes me. Never try to take anyone else down to get a leg up. And, it kept me in band, even with the terror of a director that took over. I withstood her for five years and five more instruments, just so I could get as much music under my belt as possible. I was inspired to move to tenor sax, which opened up the door to all woodwinds. Today, I have an alto on my wall, only because I can’t find a reasonably priced tenor sax. Imagine me, all of 4’11” with a tenor sax strapped to my neck. The thing went down to my knees! It was worth it.

Anyhow, returning to the music itself. I started off with the album “The Downward Spiral”, which could not have been more appropriate for the life changes I was going through.  To this day, I have owned four physical copies, because I would wear them out so badly, and one digital copy, all legal.  It was at that point in my life that I became symptomatic with Bipolar Disorder.  “The Downward Spiral” was my mainstay.  I knew in my bones that I was different somehow, and that the deep depressions were abnormal for a young adolescent.  But, the album in it’s entirety showed that what I was going through, particularly the self-loathing, suicidal ideation, self-injury, questions of faith and religion, disdain and disillusionment with the world, and dysfunctional relationships were not uncommon events.  I had figured that if these things were inspiration for an adult, why couldn’t they be my inspiration, with the music being my solace.

As I grew into adulthood, the music came with me.  “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Broken” lent me music that resonated with me.  In a way, these albums aided me in support of developing my identity apart from parental and societal expectations.  I realized that I wasn’t like the others, and I could never be.  Instead of fretting about it, and making futile attempts to conform, I fought for the freedom of expression.

The music and lyrics tapped at something deep inside myself.  It found the part of me that conflicted and the dissonance touched.  It found the fundamental contradictions that created so much confusion and made it flow.  I identify with the complex and unique chord structures.  They are beautiful, yet eerie, and have so much tension in them.  My ear can identify them in music I wasn’t aware that you had a hand in, not because of the musical familiarity, but because of the way it touches me.

I could go on identifying each album, with various songs that have colored my life.  But, I find it unnecessary.  The message is this.  Each album contained a number of songs that had personal meaning.  Most were very fitting for the time period of my life, whether it was touching upon symptoms of my progressing disorder, dysfunctional and abusive relationships, general discord with life, or absolute disgust with society and the people that run it.  And in those songs, I found the music and lyrics to tell me the most important thing I needed to know in my life.  I am not alone.

So, today, I share my passion for music with kids, and help them find their sound.  I do that as part of my passion, and as my day job.  As a person who suffers from mood disorder, you could probably appreciate the following.  I spend most of my time putting the same message out there through creative mediums.  If you are suffering, you are not doing it alone.  I know how you feel.  I was granted the gift of music and writing to share my story and give a certain gift of companionship to those in need.  And, I feel as if you had a hand in aiding that.

I am still a fan and a listener.  I am greatly enjoying the long rumored, “How to Destroy Angels” project.  I appreciate how the music was able to evolve with me.  Or, it’s possible that I was just able to put it into a different context.  Either way, I am grateful to have had such an inspiration and support in my life.  Many thanks for following your passion, and not letting Warren take you down.

All the Best,

Lulu Stark

A Writer or a Hack? : 30 Days of Truth

 

Day 11 : Something people seem to compliment you the most on.

(Note:  I started writing this two months ago)

This prompt could not have come at a better possible time.

In my real life, there isn’t much I get complimented on. In fact, I just asked my husband his thoughts on this prompt. His response? A poor joke, followed by a, “I don’t know.” CoF, seriously, I think C.S. needs some husband boot camp.

All of the little girls at work love my hair. An elder creeper, insisting to talk to me despite me clearly wearing earphone and typing on WordPress for Blackberry, told me that I had pretty eyes. I was pretty glad the bus pulled up to the curb moments later.

Otherwise, I get quite the opposite of compliments. It’s okay, I’m used to it.

Here on WordPress, and especially everyone involved with the dialogue happening here on Pendulum, and on our local mental health blog A Canvas of the Minds, compliments are plentiful. I will spare details, mostly because I am embarrassed to talk about myself. And secondly, because I’m not sure I can completely believe it. I sit here and think, “If you only knew me.”

I find that I am most complimented on my writing.  Believe me, I am ambivalent to share that for a number of reasons.  First, I know that once a person reveals what appears to be a strength, it is preyed upon.  In my youth, I was eager to display my intelligence and talents.  There was always at least one person who was eager to take me down, either out of jealousy or just to prove a point of fallibility.  Next, I am often unsure of how much truth there is in identifying a strength or talent.  There is always some doubt and question of the validity of such a claim.  What is the measure?  Is it a popular opinion?

And finally, there is the self-doubt / humility aspect.  I do not make any claim that I am better than anyone else.  I am by no means a brilliant writer, and clearly not in the league of literary greats.  Hardly by the standard of journalist and even fellow blog authors.  I am not making an attempt to solicit compliments by saying these things.  I am only stating that I have serious doubts as to the claims made of any talent I possess.  However, I will not refute any opinion, favorable or unfavorable.

However, if there is one literary strength I have, I do know of it.  I have always possessed an uncanny ability to find a verbal expression for emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  Most often, I have had people approach me and say, “You grabbed it right out of my head, as if you lived in there with me.”  Some ask, “How do you find the words?”  To which I reply, “I really don’t know.  It just comes out.”

The answer is absolutely honest when I provide it.  I am unable to identify the mechanisms that produce the detailed emotions and internal experience.  Imagination?  Experience with the experience / emotion / thought itself?  Education?  Really, it is just something that was always there.  But, I will admit that it is a craft that I’ve unconsciously refined throughout the years, just by practicing what has been just a hobby throughout my life.

I’ve mentioned this before.  My poor eyesight has always been kind of a handicap for me.  Back in my youth, my family could not afford to provide me with glasses more than once a year, or once every other year.  Often times, I would have to wear an outdated prescription for an extended period of time, as my eyesight deteriorated.  Sometimes, I would break a pair by accident, and I wouldn’t be able to get a new pair for upwards of a year.  I learned to see and identify things by shape and color, rather than fine detail.  I could identify people by voice alone.  And one of the only hobbies I could really do without any difficulty was reading and writing, because I could only see about as far as my hand could go in front of my face.  (Note:  My vision has deteriorated so badly now that I can’t even see my hand as far as my face.  In fact, I can’t even see a book at a normal distance.  But, I have the means to correct my vision on my own now.)

I suppose I could consider it a talent, although I’m not sure how I stack up.  I guess I should worry less about a basis for comparison and just do what I do, the best way I know how.

Finally, I’d like to thank the readers for their encouragement to write.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of necessity for my mental health.  There are other times, like these projects, where it is a matter of a pleasurable hobby.  And other times, most of the time, it is a way for me to get my message out and have a sense of purpose when it comes to my own mental health.  I do not want to feel as if my suffering is in vain.  I do not want anyone to ever have the feeling that they are alone in their own struggle with mental health.  That is the worst feeling in the world, the loneliness, isolation, and fear that accompanies it.

Thanks for giving me a place to do this, encouragement to keep on, and an audience to hear me.

Day Zero Update

The Day Zero Project

At the beginning of the year, I had mentioned in The Day Zero Project that I had created a Day Zero List.

This is where I ask you, my wonderful readers, for some audience participation  There are certain goals that are contingent upon others to make this happen.  And, I’m ready to get back up on the horse, and make some serious gains on my list.

  • Ask 20 friends to suggest one book, and read them all
  • Ask everyone I know to recommend me one song and make a CD (or CDs) of them, no matter what they are

So, what are some of your favorite books and songs?  Twenty books in one year is some heavy reading, so I need to get started ASAP!

I’m Game!

I didn’t realize that I had been tagged multiple times.  I should have!  As I was saying to Angel, events that occurred during my depressive fog kind of jumble together.  So, I’m still catching up.

So, I’ve arrived at Angel’s Questions.  Here’s the deal.  I’m not going to tag, because I’m sure everyone has been tagged by now.  If not, feel free to pick up the questions I leave at the bottom.

Angel’s Questions:

1) What is your favorite mini-series?

Hands down, “Pillars of the Earth”.  If you haven’t read the book, by Ken Follett that’s fine.  You can read the book before or after you watch the mini series.  In this case, it doesn’t really matter.

2) What song is currently stuck in your head?

Now that you mentioned it, one came to mind, “Teardrop” by Massive Attack.  It is also the “House” TV series theme song.

3) If you’re a girl, who would you pick as your girl-crush? Or if you’re a guy, who would you pick as your guy-crush? You have to choose at least one. Although I guess this question has a heteronormative bias. Whoops. Well, if you identify as homosexual, choose someone of the opposite sex as your answer. Okay, I’m amending this question to try to make it as bias-free as possible. Who’s one guy and one girl you have a crush on? You must choose one of each.

Literally, and this is going to sound hilarious.  I have a crush on my husband.  I’m not kidding.  Any and all males who bear a striking resemblance to my husband can be included.  That’s Robert Pattinson, (Edward Cullen from “Twilight”), and Tom Welling (Clark Kent from “Smallville”).

Women?  Kate Winslet!  She is gorgeous, no matter what color her hair.  She had the perfect figure.  She’s not rail thin, and she’s curvy.  She is a real woman.

4) If you got to choose any occupation you wanted and money wasn’t an issue, what would you choose and why?

Cheating.  My ideal occupations are teacher and writer.  Both of which I am doing, and both of which I am not making a whole lot of money at.

I love being an educator.  I really do.  It is fulfilling and thrilling.  It’s different each day.  I get to watch about 90 kids grow up each year.  And to think that I’m a part of their lives, even for that short time.  Some will be able to look back to that and think, “That’s Ms. Em.  She taught me music when I was a kid.”  I remember some of my favorite teachers, the ones who really touched my life.  And that’s what I try to do every day, is make a difference in a child’s life.

As a writer, I want to make a difference in the mental health community by lending my voice, support, and ideas.  I want this to become a serious public issue one day, not something that everyone just puts on the backburner, because they don’t want to talk about it.  Mental health is important.  Mental health disorders are real, and they have a real effect in people’s lives.  Untreated, there are serious consequences.  I want the world to see it, and know it.

5) When you’re using numbers to make a list, do you put periods, parentheses, or something else (if so, what), after the numbers? Why do you think you have this preference?

When I’m using numbers to make a list, there is the number, a period, and then a parentheses.  It would look like this 1.)  I have this preference because it looks neater and is easier on my eyes when I’m skimming the list.

6) What sorts of books do you like to read, and why?

I have favorite genres.  Personally, I love psychology books.  Psychology is my thing.  It could have been my career, but I decided education is where my heart was.  There’s a scientific way to figure out how anything works.  We can take all kinds of things apart and figure it out.  Even the human body.  But, we still haven’t figured out the brain.

That’s because the mechanisms that make the brain work aren’t physically apparent.  It’s a mysterious thing.  I want to know how people think.  I want to know why they are the way they are.  I want to be able to draw similarities and differences between them.  It’s just fascinating.  People are complex and fascinating creatures.

7) You’re driving for at least four hours by yourself. You don’t have a CD player, and you can’t hook up your mp3 player or smartphone to your stereo. How do you occupy yourself?

I’ve never thought about it.  I’ve never actually driven that kind of distance alone.  I guess I would have to start playing license plate games, or something. 

8) Do you believe in anything supernatural? If so, what?

Of course I believe in the supernatural!  I believe in ghosts, aliens, astrology, spirits, “God” (if you will), and all kinds of things.  Especially aliens and astrology.  Astrology is something that ties in closely with psychology when you look at it hard enough.

Anyone who is interested, I do natal astrology.  Mainly through the use of natal charts.  Go ahead, check out your chart and see how close to being correct it is.

9) Why do you visit my blog? (How’s that for a nosy self-promoting question? No, you don’t need to answer this second question. It’s rhetorical.)

I’ll answer it, because I don’t think it’s important information.  I visit your blog for a number of reasons.  At first, it was interesting to see how events unfold in your life.  It was kind of like piecing together a character in a story.  What has happened?  What will happen?  Things of that nature.

But, with every story, I find myself getting involved.  Except, with a character in a book, there is no way of two was communication.  However, here, you’re not a character.  You are a person.  And I have become involved with you as a person.

I want to know about your life.  I want to know how you are feeling and what you are doing.  I want to hear your ideas, your feelings, your thoughts, musings, whatever you have to give.  There is a certain investment there.  It’s interesting, and it’s a two way street.

10) If you have a smartphone, which 5 apps do you use the most? If you don’t have a smartphone, why not?

Pandora, WordPress, Twitter, Weather Channel, and my email client.  Does that count as an app?  If not, then I’d name Tumblr as my fifth.

11) What is the most important principle for you to live your life by, and why?

Altruism.  Pay it forward.  I want to be as selfless as I can possibly be without passing myself over completely.  I have needs and wants.  I cannot forget that.  However, I know that I want to balance that with my desire to provide support roles to others.

In my entire life, I’ve always played a support role.  In school, I played in the orchestra pit during musicals.  No one ever saw my face.  I sang alto and tenor, harmony parts that enrich the melody.  Most of the time, when I sang tenor parts, no one in the crowd realized that it was me, a woman, who carried that part.

Today, I’m the woman behind a brilliant man.  I’m the teacher that is building students up to be incredible people in their lives.  I’m the music director in productions.  No one ever sees my face.  That’s fine.  I was the one who designed and hand stapled all of those programs, without any billing in the liner notes.

I am the mother behind an incredible boy.  My son is truly something else.  I know all mothers say that, but he’s so curious.  He has limited communication skills.  But, he’s three.  He can do math.  He knows the Fibonacci sequence (to a certain point), without ever having been taught.  He knows his alphabet, and can sight read.  I didn’t teach him to sight read, but he just started doing it one day.  All of these things, besides counting the alphabet, were things I thought he was too young or impaired to do.  I guess I was wrong.

And I know that with some help, and a lot of love, encouragement, and work on both of our parts, he is going to be a brilliant man, maybe more so than his father one day.

All of that.  What about what I want?  I want a lot of things, believe me.  But, I’m willing to sacrifice all of the things that I want to see others succeed.

Optional Questions:

  1. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages of your gender are?
  2. You’re kicked out of the country you currently reside in.  Where do you go?
  3. What do you do with your change?
  4. What is your favorite beverage and why?
  5. What would be your ideal vacation spot?  Why?
  6. Do you have pictures around your house?  Of what?
  7. Do you think that if I were to walk into your house right now that I would have any idea about who lived there?  Why, or why not?
  8. Doomsday Scenario:  A solar storm knocks power grids out worldwide.  There is no way to know when power will be restored, or if it will.  What is the first thing you do, and why?
  9. What do you think is the meaning of life?
  10. Another Doomsday Scenario:  A few servers malfunctioned and the internet is going to be down indefinitely.  What do you see yourself doing to entertain yourself?
  11. Are you superstitious?  What are some of your superstitions?