The sudden death of a famous musician is always a time for fans to come together and memorialize and mourn.  What I am seeing and feeling with the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson is something different.  Of course there is sorrow, a feeling of loss, regret for not having seen him in concert, but there is something else – a vibrant outpouring of love, music, and togetherness.  It is more than just shared sorrow, and I could not quite put my finger on it before, but it may be one important physical fact about Prince is why this seems less about loss and more about celebration.

Prince stayed in Minnesota.  Fiercely so.  He was ours and we claimed him with a passion that can only be understood by those who happily endure winters of bone-numbing cold and summers of sweat-drenched heat.  When someone local rises to the level of celebrity, it is a moment of pride for us.  Then, usually, they leave to pursue their dreams.  They escape to the coasts, or to wherever the rich and famous go to be rich and famous.  Prince remained anchored here in a way to which we were not accustomed.  F. Scott Fitzgerald left.  Judy Garland left.   Bob Dylan left.  This mercurial musical genius who had the world worshiping his music, his persona, his energy, not only stayed, but helped define one of the most vibrant music scenes in the nation.

The music.  It was the soundtrack of my teenage years.  And my twenties.  I lost touch with him for a few years as my tastes diverged from his projects at the time.  Then, he started creating some of the most intense rock music of his career with 3RDEYEGIRL.  Wow. He spilled genius like others spilled milk.

As with any genius, he had his eccentricities.  I imagine he reveled in them, and considering his well-known sense of humor, he may even have crafted some just because.  Kevin Smith famously cued us in to some of them, and I suspect Prince could be difficult and strange.  He made music on his own terms, so it is unsurprising that he certainly experienced life on his own terms.  But, he did not submit to the usual downfalls of fame: drugs and alcohol. He was not dogged by scandals.  He apparently had an astounding self-awareness.  He loved Dave Chappelle’s skit about him so much that he used a shot of Chappelle in character on the album cover of his “Breakfast Can Wait” single.

It sounds self-serving to say that he was one of us, but he was.  He was uncompromising, something we northern types admire, even as we politely conform.  He was a brilliant musician.  It turns out he was an incredibly generous philanthropist, something his faith did not allow him to make public.  He was goofy, sensual, intense, enigmatic, fascinating, frustrating, odd, complex, energetic, focused, spiritual.  He was human. He was us. He was a Minnesotan right up to the day he left us.

And he left us some of the best music ever written.

Don’t rest in peace, Prince.  That wasn’t your style.  Funk it up.

Music Dance

Is it even possible to imagine the first human song?

Not the full-throated howl of nature but something new,

Fired in the soul;

No mere mode of communication,

But a plaintive wail against the nothingness of the night,

A joyous burst of celebration,

Intense emotion made tangible only for a moment,

Then dissipating into darkness.

One voice then two now more

Extracting the fear or pain or alone or love or laugh

Distilling it to melody.

How can one explain what music does?

Sound pulses electric from the heart and mind at once

Curls around the feet and head and envelopes from the inside,

Struggles by succumbing, relents by resisting,

Dances in the architecture of each painted moment.

What will be the sound of the last song?

The last music an ear will hear

The last note committed to memory

Defiant, lonesome, aggressively surrendering to silence.



Even the most neglected memory

Covered in cobwebs

Creeps into the edge of consciousness

Unbidden, the uninvited messenger

Of yesterday sent to portend tomorrow

Or like a Dickens spirit subvert it.

That dark corner quarantines the uncomfortable

Needle sharp and blunt force and aching want.

They maraud thoughts, overrun

Stillness and corrupt the heart.

Awaken the soul and read their messages

Carved graffiti on the walls of memory.

Heed the omens of the vicious past or

Curse your forever.

February Morning

It is difficult to dream

When the fog creeps in on cold, heartless calm.

Every breath pulls deeper from the well

Of slow desperation that millstones your hope.

In this uncolored dreamless dawn there is no pulse

No surge, no electric twinge,

Only a day spread out blank before you.

Why My Vote Matters

In 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate.  I and others who chose to do so were excoriated by establishment Democrats who felt our votes had assured victory for George W. Bush.  There were three important reasons I did so.  The first was that the eight years of the Bill Clinton presidency had moved the Democratic party too far to the right for my tastes.  Progressive voices had been shouted down and drowned out as too radical and unrealistic.  The second reason was that if the Green Party, whose positions on issues I found more in line with my values, received enough of the vote in my state (they did, by the way, so my vote made a big difference), they would receive public funding, a vital necessity to compete on a state and national level.  But, the most important reason was because I realized that voting is not a diametric choice.  No one has to settle for voting for one side of the same coin, if they don’t want to.

We have been force-fed the idea that we have to abandon our values and choose between the lesser of two evils in order to maintain the strength of our democracy.  Absolute hogwash!  What benefits democracy is when citizens are allowed to give voice to the issues that matter to them. In absence of any political power, citizens have been forced to organize and protest in order to effect change.  How long would it have taken Civil Rights to become a reality without a powerful chorus of regular citizens forcing politicians to change?  It was not happening through the ballot box, because the values that mattered to African Americans in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were not clearly represented by either major party.

The two party system perpetuates the status quo.  It is resistant to any kind of change, no matter how positive.  Oh, there have been times when strong Progressive voices have broken through, but they are blunted by the next flip of the coin that gives power to one set of politicians or the other, not us.  There is little democratic value in having two political parties manipulate and control our entire system of government.

So, when asked the question, “If Bernie Sanders loses the primary, will you vote for the Democratic nominee?”  I will answer with a guilt-free, “No”.  I am NOT a Democrat, nor am I a Republican.  I am a citizen and I choose to support the candidate that I believe in.  If Bernie Sanders is not that candidate, then Dr. Jill Stein will be my second choice.

It is at this point that the daggers come out from many well-meaning friends.  “If you don’t support the Democratic nominee, it’s just like voting Republican!”  No, it isn’t.  It’s voting Green Party.  You cannot shame me into supporting someone who I believe will do little to nothing about issues I find vitally important.  Do I think Hillary Clinton would be a better option than any of the Republican candidates?  Sure.  But this is not a diametric choice, despite those who want you to believe otherwise.  Jill Stein is a better choice for me than anyone other than Bernie Sanders, my first choice.

Democracy requires courage.  It requires the courage to stand on your principles and vote for those who would best represent you. It requires energy to advocate for and support those politicians who you find representative of you.  You won’t always win, but your voice will be heard.

The current system of being limited to voting for one person is one of the main obstacles to reforming the US into a vigorous representative democratic republic.  Ranked voting would be a radical improvement.  In this method, you would choose your first choice, second choice, etc.  This would give a far more accurate representation of what the citizens want, and would make a multiple party system a near certainty.

And if enough people break loose of this myth, if enough people realize that voting for the issues rather than the personality or party is central to a healthy republic, we can change the country, and the world, for the better.

Enter Sandman

Today is brighter than yesterday.  Tomorrow promises even more light.  Sleep is an incredibly underrated but extremely vital component of maintaining mental health.  Sure, you may think you can get by on less sleep, or by switching up your sleeping schedule, but lack of regular sleep can have an immediate and negative impact on you, especially if you are dealing with a mental illness or depression.

Lack of sleep caused by the Gardening Beauty’s recent shoulder injury and the difficulty she sometimes has in shutting down her mind at night has helped deepen this latest low. She had a couple appointments today and now has some medication and some strategies to get her sleeping on a regular sleep pattern, like getting out of bed at 8am regardless of when she went to sleep, in order to recondition her body’s inner clock.  Right now she is sleeping, and that is a small triumph, since she has been unable to get to sleep before 2 or 3 am for the last two weeks, and often has not been able to get to sleep until 5 am, if at all.

My only worry is that she will dream.  Dreams for her tend to be vivid and extremely emotional.  She also has some recurring dreams.  The mind is so very complex and the dreams that are stitched together by our subconscious are most often riddles and quilts and montages.  Not having an explanation for these enigmatic movies in our minds, we struggle to find meaning in them.  Are they signposts or visions? Are they of the future or the past? I currently believe there is little meaning in dreams other than how they give us insight into the almost infinite complexity of human thought and the amazing capacity of the brain. But, I know that is not a widely held belief.  My simple desire is that she experiences some deep REM sleep and that the dreams do not occur as frequently as they have.

Sometimes I struggle to keep positive.  ON those days when it seems like she always puts a negative spin on everything, it can get tiring.  She blames herself.  It is one of the things that keeps many people who experience depression from socializing; they want desperately to be around friends, but they don’t want to bring everyone else down.  Add in anxiety, and you have a toxic soup of doubt and guilt.  It requires patience on those who care most about her.  But, it’s ok to have days when you just can’t deal – we all get to be human.  Just keep understanding that if she could escape from these negative feelings, she would.

I am hopeful.  She is still struggling, but I see this as a major step forward.  Next up is to get some exercise.  We need to walk, and the weather is turning cool.  My favorite time of year!  One day, one step, one more beam of hope.

Loving Someone With Depression

We all have been depressed.

Heck, it’s one of the five stages of grief, right after bargaining with the devil for your soul, or something like that.  It’s a place none of us enjoy, but it is necessary to move through it on our journey.  Can you imagine being trapped there?  Yes, you have days, sometimes weeks, where you escape it for a shining moment, but it is always there, dragging you back down.  It is a destructive force like a black hole.  Drugs and therapy help keep you above water sometimes, but not always, and there is no cure.  Just a constant distorted rollercoaster.

Metaphors notwithstanding, depression is an illness.  It differs from epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, and every other illness and disease only in that far too many people do not recognize it as a an illness.  But, it wreaks the same havoc on the person and on their friends and family.

I am in love with an amazing woman who has depression.

Before I met the Gardening Beauty, she had attempted suicide.  Twice.  For some men, that would be a signal to turn and run away.  Even today, when her depression is really challenging her, she reminds me I don’t have to stay.  But I do, because I am in love with her.

Why didn’t it scare me?  Well, it did, a bit.  But, I have a caretaker personality, and she is an amazing cook, so my personality and stomach made the decision.  No.  That’s not completely true.  Seriously, I can’t answer why it didn’t scare me off.  It just didn’t.

Since meeting her, I have learned and experienced so much about depression.  Have you ever heard some of the various tips people give for getting over depression (as if that were even a possibility)?  They include: “Just watch a funny movie”, “Think happy thoughts”, “Snap out of it”, “Think of all the good things you have”, “Stop thinking about everything and just enjoy”. [In fairness, one or two of those may or may not have been uttered by me.]  Some of these are well-meaning, but they are meaningless. COMPLETELY. MEANINGLESS. You might as well tell someone having a seizure, “Just hold yourself still!” Or declare that all one needs to do to be cured of cancer is “Think the tumor away!”  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet, these suggestions are heard over and over and over by those who deal with clinically diagnosed depression.

One thing she says to me is, “I know that’s what you meant, but this is how I feel.”  I never really understood that until the light went on today.  While intention is important, sometimes, perception overrules it.  It’s not that her perception is wrong or invalid, it’s just very important in how she reacts to something.  She admits that the intention of someone can make a difference, but often, it relies more on how she perceives it.  And when her mind starts working against her, it can end up in a very ugly place.  That doesn’t mean people who know her need to walk on eggshells around her.  It means that she needs them to understand what she feels, to accept that her perception is a valid as their intent, that her feelings are as valid as their feelings. That must be one of the most infuriating, most hopeless challenges of depression – lack of understanding.

You can’t see the damage.  You have to listen close to hear the calls for help.  You have to make an effort to understand something so debilitating that it will literally keep someone in bed all day. There is no telethon for it, no one holds bake sales to help someone pay for their therapy or drugs, hell, you are lucky if someone just takes the time to ask you what they can do to help.

Every single person who is diagnosed with depression experiences it differently.  You may have a relative or friend with depression, and something may have worked for them, may have helped them manage their illness, but there is no guarantee it will work for someone else.  Every person has their own triggers.  One of the most insidious triggers for the Gardening Beauty is the implied “but”.  You can tell her the most amazing thing about herself, give her the most incredible and well-deserved compliment, but she may hear an implied “but”.  She says it stems from her childhood and the overwhelming feeling that she had to be perfect.  She remembers going two weeks without a spanking at one point, but what stays with her is the sense of failure when she could not avoid it longer.  Rather than blaming her father for his ignorant and damaging use of corporal punishment, she blames herself for not being perfect enough.  That feeling and fear of being less than perfect permeates her response to everything.  When she takes over a project, sooner or later her drive for perfection and her fear of failure take hold.  Then, she feels unworthy, unmotivated, insignificant.  People interpret that as her giving up, and it is, but not in the manner they suspect.  She gives up on herself.

It is a challenge for her to accept criticism without taking it personally, especially when she has invested herself in something, because experience has taught her that way.  For example, she obviously adores gardening, and she is incredibly knowledgeable.  She is willing to admit when she doesn’t know something or when she is wrong, but that does not happen too often.  It is her passion, and she comes alive when discussing it and doing it.  This summer, she had a rotator cuff injury.  It limited what she was able to do, and the garden took a little step back.  For someone who does not experience depression, you do what you can and pick up and move forward.  For her, she lost her motivation.  Then, as the vegetables began to over-ripen on the vine, it overwhelmed her to even look at them, because she felt she had failed.  The flowers she had lovingly planted no longer gave her joy.  “What’s the use? I screwed up.”  Her mind did its damndest to work against her.  The only thing I can do is try to offer coping strategies.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  The one I have stumbled upon that seems to give some relief is asking her to make a list that we both can tackle.  Small things, small steps to offer some light, to lift the haze.

It is challenging for me, and I love her.  It must be doubly challenging for people who are not closely invested in her well-being.  But it does not hurt any less when they lose patience with her, or when they dismiss her out of frustration or ignorance.  What I dread is when someone makes assumptions about her, believes that because she has never been formally trained that her opinion holds little weight, or that even though she has dared to take the lead in a project, slowly and surreptitiously remove her responsibility because some days are challenging for her.  Being with her, loving her, working with her, takes patience, boat loads of patience sometimes.  Some days, my patience admittedly runs damn near empty.  We struggle together on those days.  Together.  We sometimes yell at each other, cry, get frustrated, but we work together.  It pains me to watch others abandon her, turn on her, or refuse to take the time to understand her.  Sadly, that happens to everyone who faces a debilitating illness.  Some people are not equipped to deal with it.

“Why are you with her?”

It’s a question no one has asked me outright, but I am sure has crossed the minds of those who know us.  I love her.  She adds more to my life than I do to hers.  Her kindness, generosity, love for nature, open and giving heart, and her wickedly twisted sense of humor all give me reason to get up and do what I do every day.  She is a talented cook, has a fantastic eye for design, she’s opinionated, honest, infuriating, flawed, clever, and full of more confidence than you might expect.  Some days I like her, some days I don’t, but I love her everyday.  She just happens to be diagnosed with depression.  It is not who she is, it does not define her, but it is a part of her that needs to be understood.  I hope that I understand more days than I don’t.