I – Zina
I am playing a show with my cover band tonight in a bar that is just up the road from my house.
This is not an unusual event. We’ve maintained a steady flow of roughly bi-monthly shows for several years now, and with them we’ve developed a rehearsed rhythm of preparation, load-in, set-up, and breakdown.
The remarkable part of tonight is that it will be my last regular appearance alongside our brilliant drummer Zina for the foreseeable future. I’ve been in three different bands with her since 2010. I’ve reached the point that it’s fait accompli for me to assume any new song I write or learn will make its way to her sticks.
In the days before I met Zina, my guitar playing frequently lacked a tangible rhythm. You couldn’t feel the emphasized beats within my strumming. There was no pulse. At my best, I was writing syncopated song with room for more arrangement within. At my worst (much of which is still creeping around in old posts here), it sounded like I was playing in free time because I never quite complete a measure, so hurried was I to move from each chord to the next.
Zina helped me define the space in my playing – space filled with rhythm, but also space filled with silence. Now I can even find that space when I’m playing on my own.
I am not sad about the show or about Zina leaving the way I was last year when she first broached the subject of her eventual departure. I’m thrilled for her to move on to a new city and new opportunities, but that’s not the only reason I’m not despairing. I’ve learned to accept and adapt to change in this past year like never before. I know that nothing good ever lasts forever, but now I understand that some other good always follows.
In fact, compared to one, five, or ten years ago, the only aspects of my life that have remained constant throughout are playing music, being in a relationship with E, and writing here at Crushing Krisis – as I have been for the past sixteen years as of today, its anniversary.
II – Status Quo
I often say that I have an unhealthy relationship with streaks and habits. I often call it an obsession with completionism, but you could also accurately describe the thing that I’m obsessed with as creating and maintaining a “status quo” – from the Latin, meaning, “the existing state of affairs.”
Once I get used to an existing state of affairs, I want to spend more time there. I enjoy bands that grow linearly and play their entire back catalogs at shows. I love comics that maintain the same casts and creators for lengthy runs. I hang on to old versions of software as long as I can before I’m forced to upgrade. I feel like I ought to blog every day and make sure that my bands never forget how to play a single song because I want to maintain the status quo.
It’s not that I’m against growth and change. There are a lot of things in the world – in my world – that need to change. I’m just for not changing the things I’ve grown to love just for the sake of changing them. What I’m looking for from bands and comics and software and life is for them to resemble a cartoon full of high stakes adventure that still manages to return its characters to the state in which they began, so that you can repeat the episode endlesslesly like some kind of Groundhog’s Day Möbius strip.
That also means that once I settle into a routine in life, I’m loathe to give it up. Five years ago, in the summer of 2011, I would have told you I loved my status quo. I had a great, stable job in communications with growing responsibility. I was a homeowner who finally had the freedom of a driver’s license. I played with Zina in a pair of bands I loved. I was in amazing physical shape.
Life was good.
One year ago, in the summer of 2015, I would have told you I loved my status quo. I was heading into my third year leading a massive team of talented client managers and few had ever left. EV had graduated from baby to toddler and was quite suddenly communicative and fun in a whole new way. I played with Zina in a scrappy, fun cover band that could sweat out five hour sets. I had all of the books and music I had ever wished for.
Life was good.
In the summer of 2016 I can tell you that I love the status quo. I don’t have a full-time job, and I spend my days being what I cheekily refer to as a “toddler concierge.” My bands are about to become defunct (or, at least, much loss rocking without Zina) and I have only one more gig on the calendar after tonight. I don’t have the budget to buy all the media I want to consume or more space in my house to contain it.
Life is (still) good.
I don’t think that’s because I am a fundamentally happy or positive person. E would certainly tell you that isn’t the case. In both of those first two examples of the good life, I could have listed a dozen details that were making me unhappy at the time. But I love falling into a rhythm. I love when things come together and I get to steadily work on something, being the same but improving all of the time. So, life was good.
The problem with a state of steadily-improving sameness is that you’ll never know if that “same” is the best you can be. There’s a lot of negative connotations to apply to that, about greener grass and fear of missing out, but those imply a dissatisfaction with the present day – some inkling that it could be better.
What about when “same” is great? Why bother to shake things up? Because nothing good ever lasts forever. Sometimes you can have a good thing going and it’s still a great idea to move on.
III – Full-Time
Crushing Krisis has existed under the same masthead for sixteen years, but this is the first time I’ve ever been able to say that I am effectively a full-time blogger. It comes inextricably paired with being primarily a full-time parent.
Sure, I used to post 48 times a day back in the Blogger era, but at the time I was a full-time student with a part-time job. Blogging for me was like Twitter is for most people now – half note pad, half venting steam. Later, I’d make more concerted efforts at blogging regularly, but always in spurts of things like Blogathons, podcasts, National Blog Posting Months, or just trying to run up a posting streak. It was never my main focus, even if it was consuming my focus at any given time.
Things are different in 2016. When I left start-up land to spend more time with my toddler this spring, I spent the first month focusing on full-time parenting to the exclusion of everything else – blog included. At the end of that month, it was obvious to me that I has space in my day and my brain for a consistent pursuit that wasn’t just EV and music, but also wasn’t a return to a “real” job.
I realized that I was finally free to blog with the fullness of my attention.
That’s what makes my present blogging full-time. It’s not just because of the sprint of daily posts in June and July, which resulted in my all-time highest word-count month in 16 years of CK. It’s not only launching 10 new comic guides in three months, which was nearly my output in each of the past two years.
It’s the results of increased mindfulness. CK is stronger than it ever has been before behind the scenes. I finally have the right set-up, plugins, and analytics for things that have been held together for years by duct tape and best intentions.
Also, that sprint of writing proved to me that above being a songwriter or blogger I am primarily a writer, and that no amount of self-doubt or time away can take that trait from me. It also produced some of my favorite posts in years – so much so that it seems redundant to pick out examples to link here.
(Although, I will mention my introductory essay on Wonder Woman and gender norms in that it embodies my recent habit of intertwining personal revelations with meaningful critique, as well as “a few small repairs” as proof that I can still do that comedic, neurotic thing that I’ve been doing for years.)
VI – “Status Quo”
EV has quite the brain for absorbing music, which has the delightful side effect of her sometimes slurring entire sections of my own songs back at me as a tiny and deliriously-obsessed fan.
Given the theme of this post, you may not be surprised to learn that the song she has recently become fixated upon is called “Status Quo” – or, in EV terms, “Don’t change your face.” In fact, she just interrupted my writing to have me play it for her.
It’s a song I started in our old house and finished in this one, one that spend a year as a single germinating line before spilling out to its full length all at once. At the time I didn’t think it was about anything in specific. I was mostly trying to write a modernized Sam Cooke type of song in 6/8 for Gina to sing in Arcati Crisis. Here are the lyrics:
When things were good
I wanted them to get better
But when they were better
I realized that nothing good ever lasts forever
Now I’m wishing for the status quo
And I just want you to know that
You can stay the same as you are today
I don’t want you any other way
Don’t change your face, don’t change your name
Please stay the same, the same, the same.
Please stay the same.
I can buy you diamonds
I can take you for a ride
I give you any material thing, babe
But I can’t buy us more time
I’ve got to love you the best that I can today
Because love sometimes dies, love sometimes fades away
You can stay the same…
Our love is young
Compared to an ocean
When we’re gone from this world
The tide will still ebb & flow, but there’ll be no more sign of our devotion
Our love is real, but
Our love is fragile
It will crumble to dust
While the mountains stand and smile
So I’m done wasting time on regrets of what could’ve been
I’m gonna love you in this moment, then I’m gonna love you again
You can stay the same…
It’s a song that has taken on a lot of meaning in the years since I wrote it, but none more than the meaning of hearing it recited back to me in the voice of my child. “Don’t change your face,” says the little girl who grows inexorably older each day. “Don’t change your name,” I said to her mother when we married, because I loved her own version of herself and not one that I planned to subsume.
I don’t really mean it, though. The song pretends to be about keeping everything frozen in time, but it’s really about loving the day you are living instead of spending time regretting the last one or wishing for the next one.
V – Regrets?
Was there more I could have done with Zina in six years of playing?
I’m sure there was! More songs, more shows, more recordings, more audiences.
Despite that, did we do enough? Did we do all that I really wanted to do? Did I make sure no aspiration was left on the table?
Zina has touched all of my favorite original songs at least once. We recorded Arcati Crisis’s entire repertoire for posterity. I’ve played an entire bucket list of favorite cover songs running the gamut from Beatles favorites to me rapping Nikki Minaj’s part in “Bang Bang,” culminating tonight with the debut of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” and Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams.”
Along the way, we’ve shared so many moments of laughter and frustration in rehearsal and on stage, and we’ll find a few more tonight. And then, this particular status quo is shattered – she and I are both on to the next thing.
That’s how I like my regrets to go – never regretting not doing enough, only regretting that I couldn’t subvert the steady passage of time to do even more. It’s the reason why I am solely focused on being a father right now above all other things. First, because I knew I could leave my start-up job honestly saying I did all I intended to accomplish. But, more importantly, because I know I can’t keep EVs face the same forever and I already miss the way she used to snuggle up next to me as a baby to fall asleep, but I’m not going to miss the chance to create memories with her.
This status quo will only last so long before we’re on to the next one. Every moment counts.
That is also how I’ve (finally) come to feel about Crushing Krisis over the course of the past year of blogging. CK is not one 16 year status quo, but dozens or hundreds of smaller ones strung together. Could I have written more given the state of affairs this past year? The answer is always yes. I could chain myself to a keyboard eight hours a day and never run out of thoughts and songs and stories and guides to transcribe. My head is that full.
Despite that, did I make moments to write? While I was in the moment, did I say what I wanted to say? Am I proud of what I created?
VI – Thank You
I said earlier that the constants in my life are playing music, Crushing Krisis, and my relationship with E, but even constants can change. Status quo is ultimately an illusion, unless you are a Saturday morning cartoon or Bill Murray attempting to kill a giant, weather-predicting rodent.
Did I picture when I taught myself “Ziggy Stardust” on guitar that I would be leading a band through an entire set of David Bowie repertoire in a packed bar, all tearfully singing along in the wake of his passing?
Did I imagine when I made my first post on CK with Blogger that it would last sixteen years and along the way become not only my digital identity but such a well-known source of comics information that entire communities of fans feel like they know me already?
Did it occur to me when I was teaching E the basics of HTML and encouraging her to have her own blog that one day she would be working as a web developer while I stayed at home to parent and write?
Those are some of the biggest alterations my constants have gone through. Others are less obvious or more personal. When the status quo shifts it’s not always with the weight of a tectonic plate. Sometimes you only notice subtle changes in the topography of your life in hindsight … which is why you’ve got to do your best to do things you love as often as possible instead of waiting for a life-altering earthquake of an epiphany.
You have to love the best that you can today.
I will always remember this past year as the one where I finally accepted the words of that song. I believe that change was okay on every level – in the short or long term, in life or work or relationships. No existing status quo is absolutely the same each day, and when one steady state of affairs ends the upheaval it brings can be positive.
I would not be a full-time blogger right now without having EV in my life. I would have never played with Zina if E’s band didn’t need a fill-in bassist that became permanent. I would not be with E if not for this blog (in more ways than one). I don’t think this blog would exist without my music – which, in turn, wouldn’t exist without my meeting Gina, which could have never occurred without blasting doo-wop and The Beatles while riding in cars with my father and mother, respectively.
(And I would’ve never written “Status Quo” without a bedrock of Sam Cooke and “Oh, Darling.”)
So, in reverse order of their appearance:
Thank you EV, for your patience while I’m “fixing my webpage.” I’m sorry that it’s always broken.
Thank you, Zina, for never doubting my crazy plans, for all of those conspiratorial smiles on the back line, and for helping me become the best musician I’ve ever been.
Thank you, E, for this amazing life we have, and for a status quo that is never really the same.
Thank you, readers, for living on the other side of this one-way glass I write on again and again while believing it’s just a mirror, and for listening and then responding to prove that it’s not.
Thank you, Gina, for everything, forever. Your fingerprints are everywhere.
Thank you mom and dad, the prior generation of E and P, for being non-musicians who were so in love with music that it infuses every cell of my body. One day I will crumble to dust, but somewhere in space all these melodies and words and thoughts will still be echoing outward through the influence they’ve had on the world around me.
I am so thankful for being able to say that.
Thank you, and happy birthday to this.