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Mostly, I just don’t want to think about it.

That sentence, more than any I can think of, sums up my feelings regarding reflecting on the year that was 2015.  And this is why I am writing my memoirs in the waning days of January, when I generally bust one of these out if not on January 1st, pretty close to.

The abridged version of my year is as follows: in December Madeline turned five, in July Amélie turned three and somewhere else during that time True decided that five years was quite enough for her of being my life partner.

It’s not something I particularly want to elaborate on in a public venue.  What happens next?  I don’t know.  We’re both with new people.  Life goes on, right?  Right.

Unless you are no longer alive.

Conventional wisdom states that I should be reflecting on Marin Luther King Jr. today.  The problem is that, on a personal level, any reflection of King is a reflection of someone taught to me from history – a history where someone fought for an end to discrimination and for fiscal fairness and who seems to have lost.  Barack Obama, for all of the legitimate criticisms one could lodge against him, is still the most vilified president to ever hold office for little more than the above average amount of melanin colouring his dermal layers.  I hesitate to say “good riddance” to Obama and his tepid ultra-centrism for fear of inviting the full-fledged fascism of Donald Trump.

A week ago when the news broke that David Bowie had died, I texted my girlfriend, “Lemmy’s passing was sad, but this one really hurts.”  My copy of ChangesBowie is lonely upon my CD rack and needs company.  Last Monday I fired up Spotify and listened to nothing but David Bowie all day long, culminating in what is now his swan song, Blackstar.

I’d heard the title cut and found it a song which demanded to be heard through a proper set of speakers.  To listen to the song through a pair of earbuds is to listen to a song neutered.  The whole album is beautiful and it makes me sad.  While the circumstances surrounding it are different (cancer, as opposed to suicide), I felt that I was hearing a goodbye note much in the same way as Joy Division’s Closer.

The thing about David Bowie is that he influenced and was influenced by pretty much all of the music I love.  My first encounter with the Starman occurred when I had to have been six or seven years old.  Not the Starman, mind you, I met the Goblin King of Labyrinth.  To this day “Magic Dance,” despite all of it’s 1980s cheesiness is one of my favourite David Bowie songs to this day.  It just makes me happy…and sometimes that is all that matters.

The radio stations out of Canada which I listened to growing up kept Bowie on regular rotation.  All of the classics which were collected on ChangesBowie came to me via those airwaves.  By 1998, I remember my friends and I driving around the countryside of Northern New York blasting the Nine Inch Nails remix of “I’m Afraid of Americans” and generally being weird, terrifying kids.  When I joined my college radio station, there was not a time that David Bowie did not get airplay – a new album was guaranteed an add to the playlist rotation (my tenure as music director contained the release of Heathen).  I can thank college radio for the fact that I have heard “The Laughing Gnome.”

For his birthday one year, I bought a friend a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.  He was heavily into glam at the time which was influencing his music and it seemed an appropriate gift.  On the card, I wrote, “something to bring you closer to your roots.”  In hindsight, I should have bought two copies and kept one for myself.

The first Illusion of Joy long-player I ever recorded, 2002’s Bitter was done as a class assignment.  Actually, the assignment was to record a song and I went way beyond and recorded an album.  It is somewhat of a miracle that I was allowed to do this.  However, the professor must have liked, if not what I was doing, my drive to do it.  At one point he commented that my vocal style reminded him of David Bowie.  It was an amazing compliment.

For the second year in a row, Illusion of Joy made only one live appearance.  I have been slowly working on a new album.  I gave the songs from it a listen in chronological order recently…and made my girlfriend listen as well.  She referred to one track as “devastating.”  That’s a keeper.

With any degree of luck this album will be fully complete and released for public consumption this year!  For most intents and purposes, it is done, but there are some other players I want to bring on to add their talents and finish it off.  The closing song, in particular, I want to have a big finish.  To that end, I’ve been asking every vocalist I know to contribute to the coda.  Thus far, I’ve gotten Don Anderson, Jim Semonik and Maresa Whitehead to contribute – and just the three of them brought the song to a much higher level.  I get shivers thinking of what a dozen vocalists may sound like all tracked together.

I feel that, musically, I have been operating in a bubble for way too long.  This has not been healthy for me.  But I also have trouble reaching out and socialising with other people.  I am trying to not be so anxious, but it is a difficult wall to scale.  It especially frustrates me because there is no logic to my emotional state and I pride myself on being someone who can power through things and tackle problems with logic.  Emotions just don’t follow the rules…what makes me a decent songwriter otherwise cripples me.

And 2015 showed me, if nothing else, how emotionally crippled I am.
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My oldest daughter now uses the toilet with, what in my estimation is, a 95% success rate. As I reflect on the price of diapers and realise that this particular expense has been effectively cut in half, I count the girl’s successful toilet-training as one of the major victories of the year. One child down, one more to go – and then True and I can take our spawnlets out as slightly more civilised members of society.

Read more... )
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I find myself sitting on the sofa, tapping at the keyboard of my laptop PC. My daughters are in the play area. The younger one, Amélie, is contemplating the intricacies of a child-size foam chair. Her older sister, Madeline, is running around the room in tiny circles. Their mother, who may or may not have deeper insight into these behaviours, is at work today. She wouldn’t usually be working on a Wednesday, but we are attempting to shore up our household finances.

Read more... )
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True and I were at a friend's house for their annual New Year's gathering. We'd dressed the girls up in matching outfits for our own amusement both at that time and several years into the future when they are both teenagers and certain to be humiliated by such parental antics. Amélie, now seven months old, spent most of the night drooling on her outfit. Madeline, now a two year old, spent the night basking in the adoration of the other guests while finding ways to point out to the hosts where they'd forgotten to child-proof their house. Either way, the elder of the two children gleefully stayed awake past midnight and saw 2013 arrive with the grown-ups.

It was in the summer of 2011 that I lost my job of seven years. The spring of 2012 brought new employment, albeit as a temporary worker. It is my hope that 2013 will bring me full time employment - or winning numbers in a Powerball drawing. In any case, the autumn of 2012 brought True a weekend job, making us a two-income household. We're doing okay, but I refuse to accept that we couldn't or shouldn't be doing better. In the ebb and flow of life, we've moved back into a cycle of transition. In fact, I've become somewhat used to this. If memory serves, 2010 was a year of (protracted and painful) transition and 2011 was somewhat more settled, despite my becoming unemployed. Now it's time to change again - to evolve and improve.

2012 was a chaotic year. Amélie's birth did not go as planned. To say I'm not still upset about how everything went down would be lying. I have a lingering suspicion that True's induction was horribly botched by her obstetrics team and that her suffering and near death - not to mention the near death of Amélie - were entirely avoidable.

Obviously the biggest bump in the road for 2012 was that time spent in the hospital paying tribute to high anxiety what should have been a joyous event. A smaller bump occurred in October when I received a traffic citation for allegedly passing a school bus while its red lights were flashing. The incident occurred in the neighbourhood of Beechview, where - for me at least - nothing good ever seems to happen. In Pennsylvania, passing a school bus with flashing red lights carries a penalty of five points on one's license and an automatic suspension of driving privileges for sixty days if one pleads or is found guilty of the charge. The issuing officer must have been colour-blind, as the bus I passed had its yellow lights flashing; there is no law on the books which prohibits one from passing a school bus while its yellow lights are flashing. Still, two months later when I plead my case in traffic court, the presiding judge reduced my charge to just that - passing a bus with yellow lights flashing. As the judgment meant that I'd be receiving a large refund of the collateral I'd paid on my ticket along with no points on my license, I accepted the decision and decided to move on with my life rather than arguing the finer points of what was and wasn't contained within Pennsylvania's traffic code.

For the record: the driver of that bus should have received a traffic citation. In Pennsylvania it is illegal for a school bus to have the yellow lights flashing unless they are going to be switched to red within five seconds. The driver of this school bus had those yellow lights going for well over five minutes.

True and I have been discussing buying a house for a while now. Initially we'd considered it as a five year plan, however circumstances leave us with a desire to expedite the process if at all possible. We are now hoping that 2013 will be the year that we switch from renting to owning.

First and foremost in the decision is the math: I crunched the numbers and there is no way to deny that it is far less expensive to own than rent in Pittsburgh. Even with a mortgage, taxes, water and sewer bills and paying homeowner's insurance, the monthly total paid towards owning is still less than renting. A close second is privacy: I am tired of sharing a roof/floor/wall/etcetera with strangers. True and I made every attempt to be civil and even friendly with the upstairs neighbours in our current dwelling. Not only were we rebuffed, but the female of the second floor has taken to creating a hostile atmosphere, apparently no longer satisfied with being verbally abusive to just her own family. I refuse to raise my daughters in such an environment and, on a more personal level, I refuse to live in a place where I can't unwind and be creative.

It is time to move. Honestly, I wish I'd had it in my head to buy a house years ago, however I was convinced that such a thing was impossible - especially with my student loan troubles. As the student loans are a thing of the past, I'm hoping that we can actually go forward with this. Logically, there's really no reason I'd be denied a mortgage at this point (especially through some of the programs the city has to help lower income people purchase houses), however I still have nagging doubts. I always do...but I suppose only fools never have doubts.

So, what about the music? Illusion of Joy, persistence is thy name. I have been recording and performing under that moniker for over a decade now. If all goes as planned, the next album I release will have been recorded in a proper music room in a proper house, rather than a spare bedroom shoe-horned into acting as a music room. At this point, any recording I attempt to do here would be ruined by the - ahem - woman upstairs with her incessant stomping and vacuuming...coincidentally timed to whenever I start playing, improbable as that may seem.

Regardless, the song writing hasn't stopped and I hope to get the live shows going again not long after the family is settled into a new house. Until then, live performances have been suspended in favour of house-hunting. Sadly, spending money on a new computer has been suspended in favour of having a down payment for a house, but those would be the priorities.

So, for those of you with attention deficit disorder: 2012 - Amélie was born, Madeline turned two, I got a job, True got a job, the upstairs neighbours suck, I got a traffic ticket. 2013 - Amélie turns one, Madeline turns three and hopefully the Warren family will be living in new digs.


Jan. 1st, 2012 09:47 pm
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"Oh my god! 2011 sucked!" or some variation thereof was the repeated theme on my Facebook timeline since yesterday afternoon. If my very informal non-survey is any indication, it seems like I'm the only one thinking, "you know, 2011 wasn't so bad, all things considered."

At the beginning of the year my domestic partner True and our daughter Madeline moved into what had been effectively a bachelor pad with too much extra space. It didn't take long for the sun room to become a playroom and eventually the "captured bedroom" which I'd been using as an office/recording room became the baby's room. The remaining bedroom, long a storage space for my many mystery boxes was briefly occupied by True's niece who ultimately decided that Pittsburgh wasn't the place for her. It is now the office/recording room.

Speaking of recording, freed from the stress and chaos of the "flop house," I was finally able to be creative again. I finished No One Expects An Inquisition and let it loose on the world in November. I make no promises, but I feel that it won't take me five years to record another album. It is as if I've wandered out of the woods and now know which direction I am walking once more.

Arguably the biggest thing to happen to me in 2011 was the loss of my job. For over seven years I was employed by The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in the Pittsburgh office. A restructuring of the organization meant that pretty much everyone working in the Pittsburgh office, myself included, was laid off in the summer of 2011. The bank finally closed it's doors for good in December.

You might expect me to be more out of sorts about losing my job. Honestly, I find it, at most, an annoyance. I suppose most of that can be attributed to the fact that I pretty much saw it coming. The writing had been on the wall for ages as to what was going to happen to the Pittsburgh office and rather than scrambling around and getting myself twisted in knots, I decided to roll with it.

It's not that the situation is ideal; for one thing True and I are hoping to buy a house within the next five years and you can't get a mortgage on unemployment. However, I look at it this way: in the hierarchy of job loss, a layoff trumps a firing. Sadly, it is also better to get fired than to quit - in the United States when one quits there is no social safety net as the law takes the side of the employer over "the ungrateful leech" known as the employee. Seeing as how this ungrateful leech was good enough to keep around until the very end, I left my job with a severance package and the ability to collect unemployment compensation without having to jump through hoops.

While I've been attempting to scavenge the barren wasteland of America's modern economy for a new job, I've enjoyed something most young fathers don't get to: seeing my little girl every day. Up until July, I didn't see Madeline for about nine hours each day. Once I'm back to the grind, I'm sure I'll miss the time I could be spending with her while she's so little.

Overall, I think in 2011 I found some sort of strange peace. Everything everyone tells me I should be feeling - stress from job loss and unemployment, stress from being a new parent, etc. - just isn't happening to me. I like it.


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Seth Warren

May 2017

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