Learning to Love Some Music Again

It can be years — hell, it can be decades — since last hearing a song, but the music and lyrics come back to me, and it floods my mind with memories of when and where I’ve heard it before.

I accredit this to my mother, who always had music playing while I was growing up. In the house, she had an extensive vinyl collection that extended back to the days of her youth, and in the car, she’d have mixtapes she spent hours compiling. She followed my lead on the portable electronics front, going through multiple generations of Walkmans and Discmans alongside me, and fully embraced the streaming movement right before she died. Spotify was pretty close to replacing me as her favorite child.

The weekend she died, my aunt, sister, and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy to get our mind off it for a couple hours. What a shitty choice.

Within the first ten minutes, you see the main protagonist’s mother die, and how important their bond over the same music was. Then you get tidbits of music Ma sang together with all of us for two more hours, culminating with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (a song that, two years later, I still can’t hear without tearing up).

My therapist told me that everything gets easier with exposure so, with increasing frequency, I’m revisiting music that I’ve shied away from the last couple of years. I get choked up — sometimes cry like a baby — but do my best to sing along. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

It’s not so much overwriting the emotional response to my musical memories, it’s more like refining the visceral reaction. Motown is creeping back in my life, and I love it.

Yeah, I’m crying. But I’m also smiling. This feels pretty damned good.


I am so hyped up for Jurassic World.

My aunt, Joette, took me to a lot of movies growing up, and there’s a bunch that really stand out to me. Masters of the Universe, BatmanAn American Tail: Fievel Goes WestTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hook, Batman Returns… All of these movies have external memories and feelings attached to them that make those viewings significant to me. Only one movie we went to was the centerpiece of so many more memories: Jurassic Park.

The first time I saw Jurassic Park was opening weekend in 1993, about a week after my 10th birthday. I was a kid fascinated by dinosaurs in elementary school, borrowing the same encyclopedia of dinosaurs from the library so much that they suggested to my parents that they buy me my own copy. I was excited for JP because it was dinosaurs, and my aunt liked Michael Crichton and read the novel. It was the summer movie we were most excited for, and it did not disappoint.

Juarssic Park Dr. Grant and Velociraptor Toys
Some lucky mook’s pictures of Dr. Grant and a Raptor. I still have mine, but they’re not in this good of a condition.

Right after the movie, we took our customary trip to K.B. Toys to pick up a figure related to the film we just saw. After JP, I picked up Dr. Grant and a Velociraptor because, “You can’t have a human and not a dino.” I know now that she was into it as much as I was, but back then I just thought I was getting spoiled as hell.

The next few days, I couldn’t stop talking about the movie. I had Dr. Grant and the Raptor decimate every other toy in my collection. I was obsessed. That next weekend, we went again.

After that trip, there wasn’t a visit to K.B. We went to Border’s instead, where Joette got me my own copy of the book. She kept talking to me about the differences from the book to the movie, and wanted me to experience it the same way. The catch was she didn’t want to give me her copy, because she was revisiting it after she fell in love with the movie.

I read the book in two days, and we saw it again the following weekend. It was the first time we went to the same movie more than once, and after it came out on video, it was on constant rotation on my sleepovers at her house. Hell, 22 years later I still get glued to the screen if I’m looking at the guide and see it on HBO.

I am so excited for Jurassic World tomorrow. It’s a week after my birthday, and I know that Spielberg went through eight different scripts before letting it go to principal shooting. My expectations are high, but deep down I know that 10 year old me won’t let me be disappointed either way.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t “hate” my birthday.

To claim that I despise my birthday is a misnomer; I’m actually quite grateful that my parents had sex, that zygote me was formed and gestated nearly successfully, and that Dr. Jacobs was able to facilitate an emergency c-section at Albany Med to get me out of Ma, and give my heart its first few pumps when my body didn’t get the fucking hint.

I appreciate all of the complications. I understand how fragile life is, even under great conditions. I grasp how the day I tepidly exited the womb was the day that led to fostering relationships with me later on in their lives, and how they’d want to celebrate that. I get it. What I continually fail to grasp is the annual, uncomfortable discussion, about how it’s my birthday, and I can do whatever I want to — so long as the plans coincide with theirs.

“Sooooooo, I’m coming over and we’re spending the night together?”

The body language and tone of voice says that I’m being coy and they’re in on it. They know exactly what I really want. I’m sure the intentions are pure, and I can see how they would supplant my desires with their vision of a perfect birthday. There’s just never any semblance of acceptance that I’m the exact opposite of that. My perfect birthday is a day like any other, without any hullabaloo.

“But we had fun last year!” You’re right, we played a ton of Mario Kart and it was a good time once I got through my unease about it being my birthday. I’m already bad enough at fulfilling your wishes on your special days. I’d like to not have to stress out about another day that’s supposedly mine to begin with.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve gone through an awkward surprise party when every instinct was to run away from it. I’ve done small gatherings, and I’ve made big parties to try them out to see if I had weird hiccups about my family being 1,300 miles away. I’ve done decent-sized dinners at fancy restaurants, and I’ve even (very poorly) tolerated smoke detectors going off when I didn’t want people in the house.

Being alone isn’t a punishment, and asking to be left alone isn’t an affront to our relationship. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate you, or that I don’t love the fact that you care about me.

The way we interact all year long gives me that feeling of love and companionship. I don’t need a culmination of it on one specific day because I was born on it 32 years ago. What I’m comfortable with is just going through the day like the rest of them. If you want to tack on a “Happy birthday, I love you,” with a text about some random thing we’d talk about anyway, go for it.

I’d welcome that above anything else. At some point I’ll have kids and their birthday will have a more special meaning to me than anything else I’ve experienced. Then you can shift excitement onto their days and continue to leave me alone on mine. 🙂

The renewed push.

My family is horrible at communication, and it’s something I’ve half-ass tried to fix a few times. It’s just so ingrained that I can’t avoid it at times. We don’t share our emotions, and we typically wait until it’s the last minute to deal with things. That added up to being really bad at handling loss. I didn’t know what I was feeling, let alone what I needed to get better, and I certainly didn’t know how to convey any of it to my loved ones. The worst part is that I thought I had it figured out.

I did a lot better with Ma’s death than I did Gram’s. I attribute that to the shock of hearing of her condition and within the next 10 hours making the final decision to let her die. You go into emotional desolation and recovery so quickly because you need to ensure your thought process is sound.

I’ve been a lot better at noticing when I slip into bouts of depression, and I’ve been reaching out to people for company when I need to snap out of it. I’ve lost days (and nights) to being a husk, but it’s substantially fewer than I’ve had over the previous two years.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been pretty rough on me. Dorena’s grandmother, Libby, went into the hospital for a few days, and at the same time her Great Uncle Garry was admitted to the hospital after a terrifying hallucination.

He woke up in the middle of the night, and thought there were robbers in the home. He called the police because he was certain there was a woman standing over his bed aiming an AK-47 at him. Very scary stuff. His life is tragic in its own right, and his way of battling his depression was heavy alcohol usage. While in the hospital, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and I’m pretty sure it led to dementia. His mental faculties have diminished significantly the last eight months, first with general aloofness, and now this especially ominous episode.

On top of that, the one sibling my father-in-law had any sort of normal relationship with died early last week. I love her parents, and to see them so hurt by the loss was really bad. They were out of touch for a while before he passed, so I got a glimpse at what it would have been like if I didn’t reconcile with Ma before it was too late. The remorse is palpable. Body language, facial expressions, vocal tone… It’s more than loss; it’s acute, compounded dejection.

For all the faults in our relationship, I’m glad Ma and I had a chance to connect again, and not finish in discontent. That trepidation of regret was drilled home in full effect at a wake for my Great Uncle Jack last night.

Both sides of my family are quite large when you start getting into generations of cousins. After Gram moved to Florida with Aunt Joette and Garry, I really lost contact with all of Gram’s surviving siblings and their kids. Ma became our liaison with the rest of the family, and she was in close contact with her cousin Gary, who maintained the relationships we didn’t. Together they painted the full familial picture, and it still felt like we were associated.

The biggest bond I had with Ma was music, and I still listen to the artists and songs she introduced me to. There’s a few songs that have come up over the last six months that have really hit me hard because we loved singing them together, but I’ve never missed her more than I did last night.

There was a massive hole in my being as I was a fly on the wall watching my second and third cousins commiserate. It was that sock to the gut telling me that I couldn’t call her and tell her I was there on her behalf. It’s that deep sorrow that she was supposed to move back up here last fall so we could have more time together. It always seems like the biggest fits of melancholy revolve around selfish desires. It’s tedious.

I guess the swirling thoughts in my head boil down to my yearn to stay positive and maintain relationships. I don’t want to wind up missing out on time with loved ones because I was too lazy to try.

John A. Miller TROY – John A. Miller, 84, of Troy entered into eternal life on Friday January 23, 2015 at the Albany Stratton V.A. Medical Center surrounded by his loving family. Born in Cohoes he was the son of the late George and Kathryn Murphy Miller and the beloved husband of the late Janice Shea Miller. Mr. Miller was a graduate of Catholic Central High School. He was a Korean War Veteran serving proudley with the U.S. Army. Upon returning home he accepted a position with Allegany Steel in Watervliet where he was employed as a Millwrite until retirment. Jack was the head usher and a long time parishoner of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Wynantskill. He was an avid NY Yankees fan, and also enjoyed gardening, hunting and most of all spending time with his family and friends especially his morning coffee group at McDonald’s. In addition to his late wife Janice he was pre deceased by his son Scott (Yogi) Miller, daughter Lisa Miller, his siblings Thomas and Marilyn Miller, Joanne Hedges and his niece Joanne Hedges Frank. He is survived by one son James Dubiel, his brother Richard Miller and sister in law Kim Miller, his nieces and nephews , Dickie, David, Cindy, Charles and Kenneth Miller, Carolyn Oleyourryk, Donna Clement, Linda Luciano, Joette Hedges, Kevin Hedges, Gary and James Fernet, also survived by many grand nieces, and nephews and his beloved friend Bonesie the cat. Funeral services will be held on Friday at 8:45 am from the Wm. Leahy Funeral Home, 336 3rd St., Troy, to St. Jude the Apostle Church where at 9:30 am a Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated. Interment will follow in St. Jean’s Cemetery. Family and friends are invited and may call on Thursday, January 29, 2015 from 5-7pm at the funeral home. Jacks family wishes to thank Dr. Mede and Dr. Pasquelle along with the staff of the ICU, Palliative Care and Oncology units of the VA Hospital and also to the many wonderful neighbors that surrounded Jack for their friendship throughout the years. In lieu of flowers donations in Jack’s memory may be made to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center Hospice Unit, 113 Holland Ave. (135), Albany, NY 12208. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/troyrecord/obituary.aspx?n=john-a-miller&pid=173989576&fhid=3913#sthash.egqJChVQ.dpuf

Motivation and the lack thereof.

My great buddy Jerry just posted a “confessional” about losing his motivation and how he was defeating himself.

I chronicled my weight loss progress a while back, and I’ve mostly been stagnant since then. I haven’t cracked the 270 plateau, and it’s because of a few different things:

  1. I’ve always loved “summer food” — hot dogs, burgers, fries, onion rings — and I am consuming this shit food in my old habit of eating more than I should. Where one or two dogs would be more than enough, I’m going for three or four. I need to corral this.
  2. Along with eating too much summer food, I’ve gotten away from my grilled chicken, and white fish meals. Those were doing wonders for my progress.
  3. My working out has slowed a little. With the increase of my stamina, I’ve shortened my treadmill workouts to half an hour. I’m covering the same amount of virtual ground, in less time. I do this mix of walking on various inclines and jogging three days a week, and intersperse dumbbell workouts on my arms/shoulders on the off days.

    I need to experiment with more cardiovascular exercise. I think the big hang up is that I’m still fat, and my shins are really taking a beating from the impact of my fat ass jogging on them. The day off in between doing the jogs really helps with my recovery. What a conundrum.

I’ve been too comfortable with the progress I have made, and I haven’t really striven for more. Like Jerry, I’ve sunk into the rut of not controlling my food intake. I just figure, “whatever, it’s not that bad, and I’ve already done worse today,” and it spirals out of control.

I need to focus more than ever, because I’ll be going to a lot of baseball games soon. The ease of the junk food there, and sitting around for three hours a night are really going to put a damper on my plans.

Being a fat guy for as long as I’ve been one, I completely understand how easy it is to just be complacent. It’s extremely difficult countering a life time of stomach-muscle-memory. “Fuck it, we’ll start over tomorrow,” I say as I grab a box of Triscuits to munch on. “We’ll just jog a little longer later,” as I eat half of the box…

Yeah, I do the crazy Venom thing, were I call myself “we” in my head. No idea why, maybe it’s because of Venom. It’s time to zero in on my behavior and get back to work.