Transitions

A person does not realize their own stagnation until change is thrust upon them. 

 

One year ago today I was living just south of Seattle. My days were filled with the tasks associated with developing and leading Soldiers. My nights were spent playing music and relaxing with friends. Weekends I spent either traveling to play shows, or at home rehearsing. In the summer I had the privilege of working as the Commander of Reserve Forces (USAR) during operations at Fort Lewis, WA.

 

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Things were good. I understood where I was at in life and what my future held (or so I thought). But soon a cascade of events unfolded, some within my control, some not, that have brought me to where I am now. And where am I? I am sitting in Buffalo trying to figure out how Ilife has brought me here and where will it eventually lead me. Was there anything I could have done better, anything I could have changed? Would I have changed it if I had the chance?

 

Its a humbling experience, walking the same paths that you tread in your youth. Its been over 20 years, and so much has changed. Reflecting on this reality, I know that there are moments in each of our lives that guide us down certain paths. Once we cross these thresholds we can never no back.

 

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For me, one such moment was when I chose to join the Army while taking classes at Erie Community College. Impulsive decisions seem to be my nature, and this was one of many that I have made over the years. Yesterday I visited the very place where I made that decision when I was 18 years old. I stood, silent, in the same small corner office where I spoke with my guidance councilor over two decades ago. Strangely, it still bore the same glass and metal facades worn with age. I could swear that even the chairs were the same. Just outside the office were the class rooms that I sat in, mulling over this decision while discussing trivialities with my friends. There names have faded over time, but I can still see their faces…

 

This one moment in time, set me along a irrevocable path. A path that has sent me throughout the United States, and to battlefields halfway around the world. Each experience defining me, shaping me, expanding what I thought was real. Was it the right choice?

 

A second moment, no less poignant than the first, set me upon a far different path. It was the summer of 2007 and I had just returned from Iraq. The desert had changed me, as war changes all things. My spirt was unsettled, and I felt the need to fill up every waking moment of my life to make sure none of it was wasted. I remember sitting in Robert’s living room. Most of the band was there, and I sat as an outsider, having just met each of them less than a week before. A some point during the evening, Kristina said that they were going to be looking for a new bass player. In an almost reflexive gesture I blurted out… “I play bass”. This was, in point of fact, not true. I had never played bass before professionally. In my defense, I had played guitar since I was six, and had kept up my skills over the years.

 

A short time later, after buying a bass and learning all of Death of Tragedy, I won out during the auditions. I then went on to play for over seven years at nearly one hundred shows on three continents, and recorded on eight albums. Again, an impulsive decision that shaped my life for almost a decade. Far from the rigor of a professional Army Officer, I lived the life of an artist and traveled the world in an effort to inspire others through music. But was this the right decision? Where would I be today if I had kept silent?

 

By now you may be asking what is the point of all this?

The point is that I have no idea where I would be if I hadn’t made those choices. They were snap decisions at random moments in time, each of which have drastically impacted the trajectory of my life. Each time I latched onto what seemed like a good idea, and stepped out of the familiar into something wholly alien. If I would have chosen to be complacent, or comfortable with the status quo, I would have never experienced the world as I have. The beauty of a sunset on the coast of Spain, the smell of rainforest after a storm, the pain… the pain of losing those close to you. For each decision comes experience, and in each experience is born hope, and regret, knowledge, and loss.

 

I sometimes long for things that have past, but I do not regret my decisions. What use would it be if I did? I cannot change what has already been decided. Fate has already snipped that thread, and began to weave another.

 

To each person I say, do not shy away from these moments of transition, embrace them. Within each and every one of us stirs a spirt yearning to know what is out there. A spirt that wants to experience life, and understand what it means to be human….To live.

 

Do not stand idly by and accept what is. Write your own story, great or small. It is your life to live, time will not wait for you. Take a chance, because you never know what could happen and tomorrow will be too late.

Consequences

Each of us has something that we hold dear, and each of us aspires to become something more than a face in a crowd. Some of us let these aspirations slowly die over time, ground down by the world. Others fight to make these a reality, but it often comes at a great personal cost.

Both of these paths have merit, and one is not better than the other. One person may have had to sacrifice their dreams in order to help another. Stability and security over the risk of failure. Another may have lived on the street, horning their craft, in the hope that one day they would make it. The dream of something better over comfort and conformity.

But there is another person. One who targets those who have achieved their dreams, in order to pull them down and justify their own path. This may not be done consciously, but be it out of malice or ignorance the outcome is the same. Life is not a game, and there are consequences for ones actions. Cause and effect is the rule not the exception.

The tragedy is that many will never see or understand the damage they have wrought because of their actions. They will continue plodding along, gently picking at people in the hopes of living a small portion of what they once desired at the expense of another.

But there are consequences….
To take away ones dreams is to take away their soul….
To take away ones soul is to take what burns brightest within us….
Without this spark, we plod on towards an inevitable end…
Bereft of Hope, Bereft of Dreams

Alone

Zenith

A soul born of fire now dips below the horizon
Struggling against an unavoidable fate
His light fades, replaced by darkness
Buried beneath the stars.
 
In memory of a path traced full upon the heavens long ago
He came amidst rumors of hope and salvation
With curious and cautious steps he stretched high above the Grove
Rising slowly, purposefully into the sky.
 
With love and compassion
His light nurtured the spirits of those who dared stand alone
But beyond the Zenith, time grinds all things
Now within the dimming path, his brilliance slowly fades.
 
Shadows stretch long as the arms of all reach skyward
An unease most primal enters their minds, the truth which is the End
Fear of the darkness, and whats hidden within
Don’t leave us.
 
The edge of his soul touches twilight and beings to wither
Pulled downward he rages, clawing at the sky
In a final fit of life, he bleeds in fiery hues of blue and orange upon the sky
His warmth fading with time.
 
We wait in shadow,
The veil now drawn
The Abyss impassable.
 
As despair grips all, there comes another
Her gentle light calming the souls of those below
A reflection of He, shimmering in silver
She speaks in whispers of what came before
 
We must wait, we must endure
 
Luminescent fingers stretch downward through trees and over mountains
The path now lit in ghostly whites and grays
That which has passed shall be again
We must abide the dead of night
 
For those who survive this midnight hour shall see the light again
 

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Etched

I know this is a few days late, but over this past Memorial Day I was thinking back on my time in the Military and the things that I have seen and done. There are times I thought I knew exactly what I was doing, and other times…

In 2003, each of us were certain we knew what to expect when we crossed the LD from Kuwait into Iraq. We were all well trained, and understood every facet of our mission. When the call came, we flooded over the border and left behind a small piece of ourselves, never to be seen again. I can only guess that this must be same way every Soldier in every war has felt when they first enter the fray. Still as of yet untouched by reality.

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As we pushed north, we passed through 3rd ID in Baghdad and moved north towards Tikrit, then striking eastwards towards the oil fields surrounding Kirkuk. We advanced from town to town and many things were as you would expect. Sporadic fire exchanged with an Army in retreat, burned out shells of tanks lining the highway, looters streaming from Government buildings carrying what they could.

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During this time there was one image that stuck with me, one above the others. It happened just north of Tikrit at the Al Sahara Airfield, it was April 2003.

We had just pushed west around Tikrit along the MSR Tampa Bypass and were tasked with securing the Airfield for the Division ALOC. Marine Recon elements had passed through the area about 24 hours earlier and did an initial sweep. As Engineers, we were to clear and secure the site, assess the airfield, and be prepared to receive additional forces.

The largest concentration of buildings were around the water town in the north east corner of the base. Based on our initial assessment, we decided to start with this part of the airfield. Slowly, cautiously, we moved into the complex.

One by one we went through the blasted out homes, all of which were in various states of disarray. Some had been ripped to shreds by scatterable munitions, while others were riddled with holes from small arms fire. Rooms were tossed as the officers and their families hastily grabbed what they could. Mixed within were the bodies of Soldiers tasked to defend the area, and of looters caught stealing before the based was overrun.

As we moved down the row of houses, we saw one building at the end of the block that was untouched by the chaos which had roiled through the streets. There was a kept lawn, with flat paving stones ringing the outside. The widows were cracked open, and pink and blue curtains shifted in the spring breeze. The front door stood slightly ajar as we cautiously approached. Once the signal was given, we entered from multiple directions expecting more of the same, but were stopped short as we ventured into the first room.

Everything within the home was neat and clean, as if waiting for guests to arrive. There were blankets neatly folded upon the couch, and rows of knick knacks arranged upon shelves.

The war had not come here… It was not welcome…

I rounded the corner to see pictures of Mickey Mouse and Barbie lining the walls amidst photos of Saddam. There was a long table in the center of the room flanked by tiny chairs all lined in a row. Upon the table were piles of crayons and drawing left undone, cups still half full with grape juice, and small toys strewn about the floor. I stood silent upon the threshold…

Days passed into weeks, and additional forces arrived on the airfield. One by one we occupied the officers quarters, turning them into barracks, field hospitals, and operations centers. I don’t know if it was simply that we didn’t need the space, or that subconsciously we couldn’t bring ourselves to disturb it. But as we expanded our footprint that one building, the well kept daycare at the end of the block, was left alone.

Frozen in time, life before the bombs fell…

Endure

Endure

I have just recently returned form our performance at Wave Gotek Treffen in Leipzig Germany, and I have to admit that this single performance has taught me more about myself than any other in the last few years. We knew it would be an important show, but I don’t think we were really knew what that meant.

As a musician there are many levels of success. Most of us start out by performing in local coffee shops or for tiny events while still in High School. (I myself was in a Rush cover band called Vital Signs – yes it was the eighties….) After a few years of this we slowly move to small clubs in the local area performing for tiny crowds of people, opening for other small bands that are either local or traveling through.

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And time passes….

Next, if you have been able to establish any sort of fan base, you being to headline those tiny local shows in 100 person capacity clubs, and those “up and coming” local artist start seeking you out to perform with. As you become more established in the scene and you begin branching out to nearby cities whose club managers you met through local contacts.

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And time passes….

Its now several years later, and you are playing shows in clubs up and down the coast. Some are better than others, but each builds upon the one before and slowly, steadily your name gets out. This is when the first small festival promoters begin to call and ask you to open for other more established bands. As with every other phase of a musicians career, you slowly work your way up this ladder until people take notice.

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And time passes….

Now you have some momentum and your notoriety beings to build. Small festivals contact larger festivals, and those who you had been opening for, begin to open for you. You are well known in the scene and begin getting noticed in the press. One story feeds another and another and you soon find yourself at the forefront of an underground movement. Still obscure enough to be considered indie, but with one foot in the mainstream ready to break free.

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And time passes….

The stream of public consciousness is now aware of you. Successes build upon themselves more rapidly than before. People being to recognize you as you head to and from the shows, and the promoters are acutely aware of what you bring to the table. You start to receive calls to headline indie festivals that had passed you over year after difficult year.

This is where our most recent chapter ends, but the rest of the story is not yet written.

The moral of my short story is that there is no easy path to success. Only through consistent hard work, perseverance, tolerance for risk, and belief that this dream could be achieved that got us this far. There was no record label there to prop us up, and take away our creative freedom with vague promises of fame and fortune. There was no talent manager who saw a random Youtube video, and plucked us from nothing to stardom.

There will be times when you want to quit, when you want to give up because thing have gone so terribly wrong. But you have to persevere, and understand that things will only get harder, and the pressure will build as you get closer to realizing your dream.

Do not wait to be “discovered”, make them take notice.

Do not wait till tomorrow to do something you could do today.

Do not let others tell you why you cant do something.

Do not pass from Excuses to Regret.

Dream, Create, Endure, Live.

Closure: Sacrifice

As promised, here is the second of four videos that I complied after my last deployment. They are really a photo compilation of things that occurred while I was in theater, and come from my own personal collection, as well as the photo collections of others operating within Salah Ah Din Province. (There are two enemy video that were discovered, one was from Taji Area, and the other was just north of Bayji.)

My experiences were not unique. There were many of us who lived and died side by side. Each Soldier and civilian in war has their own story to tell, their own burdens to bear. I hope this, as well as the others, help provide each of you a glimpse of something beyond the media. Something beyond the thirty second sound bite, or weekend news cycle.

This one is dedicated to MAJ Alan R. Johnson, and the other Soldiers who fell within the Brigade.

From Dreams to Regrets

Dreams…

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How do we succeed in life? What does that even mean? Is it something that is defined by environment that we grew up in, or by the education we received? Is it defined by our parents, friends, or religion?

I have been wrestling with this particular idea recently as the thought of my inevitable mortality lurked in the back of my mind.

When we are young many of us yearn to start our new lives. We wonder what our first job will be. Will I be a famous actor? A doctor who cures a terminal disease? Will I meet someone special? We line up these precious dreams in neat little rows and  imagine what life will be like once they are achieved.

Recognition for great deeds done in the name of a common good.

Famous for our artistic talent now displayed proudly around the world.

Praise and adulations for heroic acts done for your family, for your country.

When we are young we sit, starry eyed, eager to start down a path so clearly laid out before us, and when that day comes we leap into the world. A world full of potential and promise, one where we will surely avoid the vices of humanity, be incorruptible to the evil which lies beneath smiling faces, be impervious to life’s tragedies that lurk, ready to ensnare the unwary.

But that was a lie….

As soon as we are left to our own devices, life becomes a struggle to survive. This struggle begins to crowd out our youthful hopes, replacing them with cynical apathy. We begin to realize this, slowly, unaware of the minutes ticking by as we plod forward with our lives.

“I’ll learn to dance, learn to sing, learn to fly next year. Right now I’m far to busy.” But days turn to weeks, then to years and our attitude morphs into something more “practical”.

“I remember I wanted to dance, but this job is far more important. I don’t have time to think about the silly dreams of children, I need to put food on the table, I need to provide for my family, I need to think about that next raise.” But as the years wear on our attitude changes once again.

“I wish I would have learned to dance, but I was so busy. I wish I could sing, there is so much I wanted to say. I wish I could fly, there are so many places I wanted to go.”

To dream

To wait

Excuses

Regret…

As I sit here I find myself awash in excuses for why I have not finished my personal and professional projects. I have too much to do at home, I have too much on my mind, I simply want to relax just for today. I am hovering dangerously close to the line between excuses and regret.

But there is a voice in my life, one who talks like I once did. Full of dreams, wonder and aspirations. I see myself in her, as I was so long ago, ready to conquer the world. She looks to me for guidance, for comfort, for understanding of the way things will be.

What kind of father would I be if I gave into regret? What path would she then choose? A life without dreams is a life without hope. A life without hope is a life unlived.

It is easy to say I will wait till tomorrow. It is hard to say I will do it today. But little by little I chip away at the walls that hide my dreams, catching brief glimpses of what lies just out of reach, working to stave off regret for just one more day