Mundane, Mysterious and Bloody Acts of Writing

Photo on 2014-09-10 at 11.34 #2Lucy the Canine Muse says hello while I’m writing at my desk

 

Today I reviewed the introduction and chapter one of my book, which I wrote several years ago.

I was totally appalled with certain sections that I used to think were rock-solid.  

I wondered things such as, “What on EARTH was I thinking?”, “Why-oh-why didn’t I see those errors? I have an English degree, dammit!”,  and “Whhaaaaaaat?

Writing is so strange.  If I write a few paragraphs and wait just one day, I always find ways to improve them.  Always.  At the very least I find egregious, embarrassing typos and/or syntax bugaboos.  More often than not I find entire sections that need to be changed or cut.

It’s perplexing, and it raises my blood pressure, but I also find this phenomenon fascinating.

When is a piece of writing done?  The pattern that I describe shows that writing is never truly complete, and that it can always be smoother, wittier, more profound, and even 100% grammatically correct.  The same concept could be applied to any creative pursuit, of course.  

I guess it’s about acceptance of the imperfect, and about setting limits with one’s examination (navel gazing?) of one’s writing.  That sounds simple enough, right?

Oooooh, it’s not simple!  Not for this silly procrastinating perfectionist!

I’ve also been daydreaming about other aspects of writing, i.e. what inspires us to write,  and “the flow” of creativity that descends upon us when we least expect it.

The other day I listened to an interview with Neil Finn, who is one of my favorite singer/songwriters of Crowded House.  Neil was being interviewed about Crowded House’s album “Time On Earth”.  That album holds special meaning for me because some of its songs are about the suicide of Neil’s best friend, a gifted musician named Paul Hester, Crowded House’s drummer.  I met Paul in New Zealand when I flew there to basically stalk Crowded House, and he was charming, kind and funny with me, since I was a nervous wreck.  He reportedly suffered with bipolar disorder.   I write more about Paul and Neil here:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/paul-hester-neil-finn/

Neil’s interview closed with his observations of the songwriting process.  He mused,

 “Tapping into the divine inspiration – I have no idea and I never will,  I don’t think…it always seems like it’s harder every time, but it probably isn’t.  It’s probably the same.  The contradiction being in the whole process is that when it happens it’s effortless, and getting to the point of where it’s effortless is an internal struggle, so I don’t know…I don’t understand it.”

http://neilfinn.com/videos/crowded-house/page/11/

As Neil discussed his songwriting I realized that his thoughts about “divine inspiration” applies to writing a book as well as a song.   My ears pricked up when he mentioned “internal struggle”.  I’m not feeling like anything is effortless this morning, nor do I feel graced with divine inspiration, although there’s plenty of internal struggle going on!  (Note to Wendy K. Williamson, bestselling author of I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar and Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar, if you’re reading this, I promise not to whine too much in future posts. Well, maybe.)

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Recently the writer Jeff Smith of Higher Trust Marketing shared a Ernest Hemingway quote with me that gave me pause:

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I’m no Hemingway, and I never will be (or aim to be) for that matter!  What I do want is for my writing to be consistently good, insightful, and ultimately helpful to others.  Do I really need to “bleed” in order to do that?  

I hope not.  

I’ve suffered enough, like all of you reading this.  No bleeding, please.  

As some you know, my goal is to finish the draft by my birthday!  At this point the only birthday present I want for the rest of my birthdays is to finish the damn draft! 😉  I’ll keep you posted.

Have a GOOD weekend, dear readers!!!

XOXO
Dyane

 

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Paul Hester, January 8, 1959-March 26, 2005

*Content Warning*

Please note that this post contains potentially triggering details about the tragic subject of suicide.  This is the first post I’ve written in over 100 posts of this nature. While I felt hesitant to share these details, the topic is a part of who I am.  Thank you for reading if you choose to do so, and, as always, take care.

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“Don’t stand around, like friends at a funeral…eyes to the ground.  It could have been you.”

Crowded House, “Never Be The Same

March 26th has never been the same for me since 2005, when Paul Hester, one of my favorite musicians in the band Crowded House, committed suicide.  I don’t have it in me to write very much or very well for that matter.  Paul’s suicide is forever etched in my memory, and whenever I remember how he died my heart sinks, for his death hits way too close to home.

The band Crowded House (one of my all-time favorite rock groups) was fortunate to have Paul Hester as the original drummer.  It is very possible that Paul suffered with bipolar disorder although he never confirmed it to the press.  Members of his inner circle knew that he suffered with depression for years, and he was known for his extreme mood swings.  On stage he was a bright light full of humor, and his fans adored him for his ebullient personality.

I met Paul when I traveled by myself to Australia in 1994; we spoke after a Crowded House concert.  I saw firsthand that the international fame he experienced with Crowded House had not changed him into an egotistical monster.  He seemed like a regular guy, a quality that endeared him to his fans because they could sense he was authentic and vulnerable.

In 2005, Paul took his dogs for a walk and hung himself on a tree in a Australian park.  He left behind his two little girls.  He was forty-six-years old.

Months after Paul’s death, my bipolar depression brought me to an all-time low.  My psychiatrist prescribed a medication called Elavil (amitriptyline), a tricyclic antidepressant.  I took one pill.  Just a few hours later I felt indescribably awful.  Words can’t express how bad that time was, for I wanted to take my own life.  Never before had I wanted to hang myself.  However, I eyed my thick, green, bathrobe belt and I felt compelled to wrap it around my neck and jump off our second story deck railing.

Thank God Craig was home.  Thank God.  I went up to him and asked him to drive me to the hospital.  Weeks later, I couldn’t help but wonder why I fixated on asphyxiation when in all the years before the day I took that Elavil pill I knew I would NEVER do that.  Never in that particular way.

The only explanation I could come up with was that Elavil caused a reaction in my brain that drew me to that form of suicide because my musical hero took that route.  In any case, there is a reason for the “black box” featured on all antidepressant brochures warning of possible increased chance of suicide.  While the warning states that it applies to young people, I believe it can apply to a person of any age.

On this day I think of the two daughters Paul left behind.  I have two daughters I almost left behind as well.  I cannot imagine the agony that the Hester daughters have suffered.  I have thought of them over the years since Paul’s death, wishing them as much healing as is possible when one loses a parent to suicide.

March 26 reminds me of how grateful I feel that I didn’t go the same way as Paul.  I can only hope that he’s in a place where he has forgotten his torture.  Paul Hester lives on in this world through his musical legacy.  His family and fans will always remember his warmth, humor and compassion. The cliche is fitting here: gone but not forgotten.

We love you Paul.

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Nick Seymour, Paul Hester, and Neil Finn of Crowded House

Blithe Friday: A Platonic Groupie Adventure

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Recently I’ve declared that I’ll write more about non-bipolar-themed tidbits.  I thought today would be the day that I enact my edict, but I’m not in the mood.  (Oh, we writers with bipolar are so mercurial!)  I am in the mood to write about something a little bit funny, a little bit rock n’ roll.

Please bear with me.

It helps me to remember the funny moments in between the dark ones.  Yes, there were some rather ridiculous happenings that took place during the hypomanic and manic times. Several of these incidents are firmly etched in my brain, and thank goodness ECT didn’t erase them.  Interestingly, they are connected with musicians.

I should state for the record that I am a groupie, although I don’t fit the exact definition in that I don’t aim to sleep with musicians .  I’m a very selective, innocent groupie of semi-obscure rock musicians who hail from New Zealand .  Aside from the Beatles, the band that has had the most influence upon me is of Kiwi origin, and it came into my life when I was thirteen.  A junior high school friend, a gifted musician herself, gave me a cassette tape marked “SPLIT ENZ”.

I listened to this tape incessantly on my tape player and on my Walkman.  (Remember those?) The music was odd but melodic, and the songs dug into my brain and stayed there. The band was co-founded by two best friends, New-Zealand born and bred Tim Finn and Phil Judd.  Tim’s younger brother Neil Finn (who would go on to form the internationally successful band Crowded House) also joined Split Enz.  Crowded House, a mix of Kiwi and Aussie members, became one of my favorite bands too.  I felt that I should be an honorary member of the Finn family.

The only time I had the opportunity to meet the Finn Brothers was was two weeks after the birth of my first child.  The Finns had recorded a beautiful album called “Everyone Is Here” and they were playing in San Francisco.  I had not yet been diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder; that wouldn’t happen until almost two years later.  I hemmed and hawed about whether I would attend the concert.  I had a two-week-old baby who I had been with almost every moment since she was born.  But I knew this would most likely be my only chance to see the Finn Brothers perform and to meet them.

What no one detected at that time was that my latent bipolar disorder had started to emerge, only to recede a few weeks later.  It was triggered due to hormones, genetics, and my losing a full night’s sleep when I went into labor.  I became hypomanic and I had the hallmark signs: increased energy, little sleep, pressurized speech, and other uncharacteristic behaviors.

I finally decided I’d attend the show.  A friend kindly volunteered to accompany me, and she drove us for ninety minutes in the pouring rain.  As soon as we left, I felt massive remorse at leaving my precious cutie.  I was breastfeeding her and I brought along my pump.  I had an agitated feeling of just wanting to get the evening over with and instead of happy anticipation.

The musicians gave the concertgoers their money’s worth and more.  It was a wonderful show, even though Neil Finn told us had a cold.  Trouper that he was, the show went on.  In true freaky fan fashion I brought cards and thoughtful gifts for each Finn.  They both were avid surfers and I brought them each a coffee table-style book about the famous surf break Mavericks.  The gifts and cards were how I expressed my appreciation for the countless hours of their music that I had enjoyed for the past twenty-four years.

After the show I found out where the fans would gather.  There was a designated roped walkway reaching approximately thirty feet from the venue directly to the tour van.  We fans lined up on either side of the ropes for a glimpse of them.  I clutched my cards and gifts and I felt nervous.  Most of all, I missed my baby – I wanted to get the hell home to her – forget these guys after all!  But I needed closure to my pilgrimage.

First sick Neil came out.  I didn’t want to interact with him because I didn’t want to breathe his germs and pass them onto my newborn.  I leaned back and handed him the goodies.  Being the consummate professional that he was, he charmingly thanked me.  It took all  of twenty seconds.

Then it was Tim’s turn to come out.  Tim strode by us and it was clear that he didn’t want to converse with anyone.  I was pissed.  He wasn’t sick!  At least on the outside!  And I had left my baby and come all this way to simply hand him a gift!  This is when my mania kicked in…

I somehow got over the rope and sprinted after him, yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN, GIFT FOR TIM FINN!!!” – I just wanted to shove it at him and leave.  My breasts were actually leaking through my shirt at that point, and I wasn’t a happy camper.  Then I heard him mutter, “You’re too much, you’re too much!” (At least he didn’t yell it at me.)  I shoved the gift at him as he jumped into the van, fleeing what I’m sure he thought was a psycho fan.

As we drove back home, I felt let down from these less-than-stellar moments with my musical heroes.  I felt ashamed about what happened with Tim.  Years after this all happened, I realized that Tim nailed it when he remarked I was too much; I was too much, and “too much” is exactly what you could say of manic behavior.  I felt seen by him!

While he has never admitted in public to having bipolar disorder, I’ve wondered if he has it, for some of his songs (His autobiographical “Haul Away”) alluded to his “nervous breakdown” and his “Cruel Black Crow” song depicted his depression.  He has shared in interviews that he suffers from panic attacks.  Mental illness runs in his family – his aunt committed suicide.  New Zealanders are known for being reserved, but her death became public knowledge in the haunting Crowded House song “Hole in the River”.

Tim has been around bipolar disorder for much of his life.  His former best friend Phil Judd was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Tim’s bandmate and close friend Paul Hester committed suicide due to bipolar disorder as well.  It’s so common for musicians to suffer with bipolar disorder.  I know this for a fact from growing up with my own musician father who had bipolar; quite a few of his orchestra colleagues had it as well.

Well, this isn’t the goofy, lighthearted post I meant it to be, but I am glad I wrote it all the same.  I do look back at that moment when I ran after Tim Finn yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN!” as pretty funny.  You could say my behavior was as “Bold As Brass”, a classic Split Enz song penned by none other but the great Tim Finn.

The Trip of A Lifetime (St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia)

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koalaYesterday to my chagrin I forgot to charge my MacBookPro before leaving the house.  I am proud to say I did bring my charger, but that didn’t help me when I was stuck in my car for twenty minutes with 1% left of battery power.  My blog post’s parting words, frantically written before the laptop conked out, were “Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown.

I had boarded my flight healthy and raring to go, but my immune system wasn’t strong enough to protect me from the other passengers’ germs. I picked up a nasty cold within just a few hours after boarding.  (I didn’t know that due to germs recirculating within the plane cabin, it was much easier to get sick.  If I had known that fact, maybe I would have doubled up on vitamin C since I had a weak immune system.) Lesson learned.  I was sneezing nonstop when the captain’s voice boomed over the intercom to inform us that we’d be arriving in Auckland in six hours.  “WHAT?” I shrieked inwardly.  “This flight is supposed to go to MELBOURNE!”  The itinerary that I clutched in my quivering hands clearly stated that I was flying from San Francisco to Melbourne. For whatever reason, the flight plans had changed and my plane was making an Auckland layover.  The pilot didn’t mention that we were still Melbourne-bound, and I felt petrified to flag down a flight attendant to clarify matters.  I credit my cold for fuzzying my brain and igniting a panic attack that prevented me from acting rationally.  It would have taken all of twenty seconds for me to settle my fears about our destination, but I wasn’t able to think clearly at all.

I panicked for the remainder of the journey, which felt like forever.  Just before we descended, the captain explained we’d be in Auckland for a short time and then we’d re-board. I let out an enormous sigh of relief and my sinuses momentarily cleared.  After we deplaned, I made a beeline for the gift store for some classic retail therapy.  The shop was full of tempting items, and I wanted one of everything.  I resisted temptation and treated myself to two essentials: an enormous milk chocolate bar and a jar of famous New Zealand honey, which made me feel a little better.

It was time to schlep back onto the plane, and I grew increasingly out of it.  When we landed in Melbourne I felt worse; however, I was relieved there would be someone waiting for me.  At the gate stood my longtime Greek-Australian pen pal “Kara”.  Kara was there with two of her friends, and she gave me a welcoming hug.  We found our way to her small car, and I assumed we’d head to her house.  I was totally exhausted, and even without my cold I would have been pooped.  Instead, we headed to the Australian outback to attend an outdoor 60’s-themed “rave”.  During the many years of our correspondence Kara neglected to mention that she was a psychedelic drug addict and that she enjoyed raves.  I was anti-drugs and anti-raves, and I felt shocked that my seemingly innocent pen pal had left out these key interests in her frequent epistles.

I wanted to be polite, so I accompanied the trio into the woods where the party took place, but I took one look at the tripping flower children and I jogged back to the car.  I gobbled down my Auckland chocolate bar even though I couldn’t taste it, and tried to sleep, which didn’t quite work out in the cramped quarters.  The time change had also really thrown me off and to top it off, it was sunny.  I don’t quite recall how many hours I stayed in that tiny car until Kara returned, but we eventually drove to her home.  She had a large, friendly Greek family complete with Grandma making spanikopita in the kitchen.  Between the gaggle of young children running around, and the television blaring in the background, the overall noise level was high.  I hated to be rude, but couch-surfing in that environment was not what I envisioned for this trip and I desperately wanted to escape.  I didn’t know what to do yet, and I furtively kept my thoughts to myself.

On the second day we went strolling around Kara’s St. Kilda, Melbourne neighborhood.  We encountered one of Kara’s friends on the street, a young woman with a neon orange buzz cut named Marilla.  (Interestingly enough, I’d be naming my own daughter Marilla many years later.  Her name was inspired by the character Marilla in one of my favorite books “Anne of Green Gables”, not by the Aussie Marilla!) Kara, Marilla and I did some mundane errands together, such as banking.  Upon exiting the bank, we spotted one of Marilla’s friends walking towards us, a pretty, dark-haired girl who looked like a university coed.

“This is Amy Judd,” said Marilla.  “Amy Judd?” I echoed.  “No, it couldn’t be…” I thought.

Phil Judd was the co-founder of Split Enz, the rock group I worshipped and that was responsible for my loving New Zealand.  I knew he had a daughter named Amy because he had written a song “Amy” about his little girl.  How many Amy Judds could there be, really?

“Are you Phil Judd’s daughter?” I asked, my jaw halfway to the pavement in true groupie fashion.

“Yeah…” she mumbled modestly.

“Well, then, I must take you out to lunch!” I replied.  She protested modestly, but I insisted, and we three went to a sushi restaurant down the road.  I didn’t say much during the meal, but I couldn’t help at marvel at how ironic it was that I sat across from one of my musical idol’s kids.  It was a surreal occasion, to say the least.  I found it a bit strange that Kara had known of my musical obsessions, but she never mentioned that she had a (distant) connection to a member of Split Enz.  No matter.  I took the happenstance as a good omen, and that my trip would turn around for the better.

I realized that I had to bite the bullet and change my trip itinerary.  I knew I was going to offend Kara with my decision, but I was absolutely sure I wanted to get over to New Zealand as soon as possible.  Call it a gut feeling.  I discovered I had to pay one hundred dollars to change my flight plan, but it would prove to be some of the best money I ever spent.  Kara was understandably hurt, and our friendship would never recover from that blow, but as I sat on the spacious Air New Zealand plane headed for Auckland I felt joyous and relaxed.  My fear of flying was gone, and to top it off, they started playing Crowded House (my other favorite band) songs on their sound system.  I looked out the window at the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds and a sense of freedom washed over me.  Sure, I was nervous about staying at youth hostels for the first time in my life, and not having a friend to meet me at the gate.  I was confident that I’d figure it all out somehow.  I opened up my “Rough Guide New Zealand” to review some of the amazing-sounding places I planned to visit and grinned.

(To be continued!  I really will get to New Zealand!)

Paul Hester & Neil Finn

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One of my favorite musicians is Neil Finn, a New Zealander who is highly acclaimed for his songwriting; he has been compared to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.   Neil was in the band Split Enz and then he founded the group Crowded House in 1985.              

Crowded House’s drummer Paul Hester became one of Neil’s closest friends.  Paul was a fantastic drummer, and he was also known for being a hilarious performer.  He brought many audiences to tears from his witty jokes and audacious spirit.  Crowded House was very successful in its own right (I’m sure back in the 1980’s you heard “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, a U.S. Billboard top ten hit ) but the group broke up due to internal pressures within the band.  Despite the group’s disbandment, Neil and Paul’s unique bond did not dissolve and deepened over the years.

When I visited New Zealand on a solo trip in 1994, I was able to meet Paul after a Crowded House show.  Our “meet ‘n greet” took place just ninety minutes before I had to fly back home to California.  I was nervous meeting Paul along with his fellow band members Neil Finn and Paul Seymour, but I was also freaking out because I was scared to fly.  Out of the three musicians, Paul was the warmest to me.  I mentioned to the trio how afraid I was to get on the plane.  Paul comforted me as he signed the back of some Rotorua Hot Springs stamps I had hastily found in my purse for their autographs.   

On March 26, 2005, Paul Hester, gifted musician, father to two little girls, and a “salt-of-the-earth” man with bipolar disorder, ended his life by hanging himself on a tree in a park in Melbourne, Australia.  He was out walking his dogs, and used their leash to leave the world.

Neil Finn, who was far away at the time of Paul’s death, received a phone call telling him that Paul had committed suicide.  Neil was absolutely devastated.  However, being a songwriter, Neil felt compelled to write the following song about his encounters with people’s reactions to discussing suicide and about the stigma of having a mental illness.  It is a stunningly beautiful elegy called “Nobody Wants To”.   Crowded House re-formed after Paul’s death and they toured all over the world, singing this song among others from their album “Time On Earth”.

Here are the words to Neil’s song:

 

“Nobody Wants To”
Down on the ocean floor
That’s where I’m heading for
Hold on to a sinking stone
Until the worst is known.

Nobody wants to think about it
Nobody wants to talk about it
Nobody Protects you

They make it go away
Pretending that it’s all ok
Broken pieces on the ground
And everyones tip-toeing round

Nobody wants to think about it
Nobody wants to talk about it
No-one Protects you
Yeah

Are we losing something
We used to cry
We used to say why
For all I know
I might not get home
But I found out
If we open it up
We could work this out

Nobody wants to think about it
Nobody wants to talk about it
Now

What you suspected all along
Everything he told you was wrong
And you can see it if you want

But nobody wants to

(To listen to this song, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVZ_vxLB_SU)

 

Rest in Peace, Paul. I think of you often, and I hope you are somewhere keeping watch over your beautiful girls.