Jul 22, 2013

Ronnerd's Rude Awakening

I'm always looking at the calendar.  Always.  Every day it's fill in the blanks.

The blanks mean you're not doing enough.  The blanks mean you're alone.  The blanks mean you're a loser.  Blanks are the enemy, blanks are the glaring evidence of an unfulfilled, incomplete life.

So you fill up those blank spaces.  You make plans.  Lunch meetings, family outings, vacations, rehearsals, social events.  You invest your time, your money and your energy into filling in those blanks.  You invest yourself in other people.  You invest yourself in the future.  And the calendar doesn't stop.  The future will be now before you know it.

In the wake of my recent hardships, investing myself in anything can be a challenge.  Everything means nothing after Sandy and all of a sudden some things seem like everything.  But are those things really what they seem - the things I've been writing about?  Are they what they are or are they the romanticized thoughts of a traumatized madman?

Because I could be crazy.  I very well might be.

We are all human, creatures of habit.  Most of us wake up in the morning and sooner or later we all remember to put our pants on.  We have laws and rules and requirements and expectations.  We read labels and we buy products.  We require sleep and attention and care and respect.  We are stubborn and we are selfish.  We want what we want and we want it the way we want it.

You're supposed to have hope and courage and a positive attitude in life, right?  No negative vibes.  No fear.  After a hurricane, after a divorce, after some bad mistakes - it's easy to be afraid, to be bitter - to be damaged.  There are real Sandy-depression hotlines out there.

When I talk to the people closest to me about the circumstances of my life right now - about the chances I'm taking, about what I believe in, about my recent investments in the wake of a divorce and a superstorm, I keep using the term 'straitjacket'.   As in not of sound mind, as in one who never learns, a glutton for punishment.

When you're still recovering from disaster, no matter how hard you run or how high you intend to climb, you're bound to stumble a time or two.  We all have setbacks.  Some hills will always be steeper to climb.  But It's Up To You to choose which ones you're willing to climb and how hard you're willing to run.

And that's how I feel about my life right now, about my choices and the direction I've chosen to run in.  It's an uphill battle.  Whatever tragedy or challenge you're going through right now, there will be another one waiting somewhere down the road.  So why not keep running, why climb the shallow hill when you can conquer the steep one instead?

The answer is easy.  If you take the steep hill and you wind up falling again - failing again - it will be more difficult to recover.  And is your mind - your psyche - ready to be punished again?  What about your bank account, your calendar, your belief system?  What about all those plans you made with hope in your heart?

Is Never Giving Up really the way to go?  Or are you bound to do all this work - convincing yourself that you're making all the right moves, taking risks, having faith in your plan - only to get stuck right in the middle of five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness Morgan Freeman can't even imagine?

It's a lot easier to stay in your cell than it is to chip away at concrete for a few years so you can finally feel freedom.

So you make your plan.  You hope for the best.  You recognize that you're getting stronger and that you needed to.  No matter what happens, you needed to.  You accept your stumbles and your scraped knees.  You keep running until you see the finish line.  But you don't sprint towards it.  Running a marathon means pacing yourself, it means breathing and having the will to go on even when you're in pain.  Running a marathon means being able to finish something you never thought you were capable of.  At this time in my life right now, it's the perfect test.

I'm in Switzerland.  Aarau.  You can't pronounce it and neither could I until a few days ago.  And that's okay.  Because everything that the guy who started writing this blog wanted to happen is happening - it hasn't been a smooth ride but when is the ride ever smooth?  If you want to keep climbing - if you want to be recognized - you have to expect your share of bumps and bruises.

Switzerland is another test, another chance to be brave.  Being here validates that the straitjacket isn't for me.  It's for the dude who doesn't believe in redemption, who doesn't believe in love.  It's for the dude who thinks he's better off going out to bars and bedding different women just because he's divorced and in good shape and lost his house in a hurricane and deserves to be selfish.  For me, that has never been the issue.  Even if I have often been selfish, I have always believed in love.  I never believed more after Sandy took what was left of my fractured life away.

But no one gives a fuck about Sandy anymore - my house has become that turned-over Monopoly card it was destined to be - a cursed headache, an inevitable disconnection.  It's Baltic Avenue and it's upside down, who wants it?  Come and get it.  Let's sign some papers and forget this ever happened.  You can keep whatever furniture's in the shed and whatever else we stored on those last cold winter days of 2012 in that dark destroyed house.  Josh and my Dad played Tetris with my upstairs artwork and my 'you don't need this now or possibly ever' junk up in the unlit attic while Garrett and I tossed my mattress out onto the sidewalk, just one more material item headed towards a landfill.

But me?  The Dude Who Lost It All - not just the house or the material items, but the girl and the studio and the business too.  I still had my Oscar the Grouch boxer shorts but mostly the rest was gone.  That dude?  He's fucking great.  Ambitious.  Focused.  Crazy like a fox.  He is not all the way there yet, but he finally understands that he can get there.  It's not too late and it's not impossible.  Not impossible to be happy.  Really, truly happy.

I passed this sign while running over the George Washington Bridge on Memorial Day.  It's true - You're Not Alone.  Michael Jackson and Olive were both right.  We need each other.  Through thick and through thin, we do.  I have always known this and that's why I have always pined for The Girl.

But the sign isn't only about that.  It's about, 'You're not the only one failing.  Look at all these different shades of faceless people wearing casual clothing who may or may not be thinking about jumping off the George Washington Bridge.'  These motherfuckers are everywhere!

Post-Sandy Ron, The Dude Who Lost It All - he never had to call an 800 # to talk him off the ledge.  He stopped going to therapy.  He started doing pushups and he started running harder.  He stopped trying to sell t-shirts and he started writing His Stoopid Blog.  He was flooded out of his cave.  He took chances, he took risks.  He stopped giving a fuck about failing - as a musician, as a businessman, as a romantic - and he started living.  He started to realize that even though he lost all his shit, he still has a pretty wonderful life.  He may have been unlucky but he was also very fortunate.

It may have been a rude awakening, but it was still an awakening.

The calender is full again, with real engagements and adventures.  There are still higher mountains to climb and a few post-Sandy obstacles to overcome, and I'm blessed to have family and friends who continue to help me through the headache.  To be part of my destiny.  That's why I'm here in Switzerland.  It's only my second trip to Europe and my first in 15 years.  It's not so much a vacation to relax as a time to be productive, to be social, to be brave.  And I'm having a great time.  I miss my dog and my family and I've got my share of bruises, but shedding one's skin is what this year has been all about.  It still remains the biggest part of my lesson.  You Can Change.

I'm finishing up lyrics for the third Return To Earth album while I'm out here, and while I feel understandably disconnected from the project in certain ways, I have never been more proud of my contributions than I have been to the ones I've made to this band and to these new songs, in particular.  RTE is just another part of my life that has taught me patience.  It's the biggest reason why I haven't walked away from something that has almost always seemed like an incomplete destiny, another dead end that I could at least hang over the mantle and point to and say, "Look, I made that.  I sang and screamed convincingly in a signed metal band.  I played with Bumblefoot and with Chris Pennie.  Me.  The kid who was known for most of the eighth grade, and with little provocation, as 'Ronnerd'."

As a teen, I liked good music and I had dimples, I played drums and I took frequent showers.  My parents and my sister were cool and I was a romantic dude.  I wasn't really a nerd, even if I always aced my tests and liked Huey Lewis and the News and Boba Fett and could quote all the lines from Goodfellas and The Honeymooners.  I was just shy.  I was just a coward.  I was losing my hair and wearing braces and having dental bridges put in before I got my drivers license and none of those things made me ooze confidence, but that's life, nigga.  Grow some balls.  Get tough.

I was Roncoward, but I suppose Ronnerd rolls off the tongue better.  And Ronnerd has been put to bed.  Roncoward, Ronliar, Rontagonist, Ronprick, Ronloser, Perv-o-ron, Negatron - they're all dead.  They all jumped off the bridge and they left me behind.  It's just Ronnie now, and Ronnie is Not Alone.  Maybe I lost some years trying to figure it all out, experiencing the things I needed to in order to get to these recent moments of clarity, but y'know what?  That's fine.  At least I figured it out.

The juices are flowing again, and there's no longer anything or anyone holding me back.  I'm writing radio bits and interviewing my idols and kindred spirits.  I'm having fun on Vine and I'm having fun at work.  I love where I live and I love who I'm with.  I'll be back in the studio in a month and running through Central Park in three.  I finally appreciate what I have, I'm finally striving to be the best me.  I'm happy, brah.  Are you? 

If you aren't, I highly recommend it.