Saturday, October 24, 2015

Surfacing

Hi,
It's been 16 months since I've posted on this blog. I'm writing this post because I was touched by a comment that arrived today:


...as well as an email I received after a recent performance.

I want to explain why I haven't been posting, but first, some music and visuals:



I'll talk about the video and the tabla material below, but I want to share something first.

About 3 years ago I slipped into a very deep and debilitating depression (and frankly, I'm still not entirely out of it, which is worrying). We all ride our own sine-waves (or hey, cycles!) of mood, up and down, round and round, but this was completely new, completely different. I wasn't aware of what was happening for a long time...well over a year I think. I suspect depression is unique to each person, as individual as our voices, or the art and music we produce. Mine manifested as a lack of inspiration, an absolute voiding of all self confidence, creeping hopelessness, increasing isolation, and overwhelming anxiety. As the self-critical voices grew louder and more persistent, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning, let alone produce anything artistic. I fought it, periodically struggling to the surface...mounting the Cycles project in some of the very darkest days, putting on a concert series at Musideum, travelling to India twice to study, and again on tour with my band Autorickshaw, performing dozens of concerts, worked on dance and theatre projects, recorded a new solo album, but most of all, created dozens of video works. Almost all my video work, in fact, has been produced in the last three years, over 70 videos of my own, not to mention dozens more concert and music videos for other artists. Video and photography have been one of the few anxiety-free areas of my life in the last three years, and I gladly dove into the sanctuary and freedom of expression of creation in those mediums.

I obviously have not been as debilitated by depression as some people are...people who simply cannot work, or require pharmaceutical or hospital intervention. For this I am thankful. But I feel as if I'm operating at about 25% capacity on any given day, though some days are better than others.

This blog was a casualty of that period. In fact, tabla was very nearly a casualty of that period. I contemplated stopping many many times. I started studying tabla because I loved the sound, loved the deep musical language and traditions, and needed discipline in my life. I've done it for 25 years now, though I still hesitate to call myself a tabla player. I'm unsure, even today, whether I have anything of worth to offer in the world of tabla. My repertoire is relatively limited, my technique not even close to the level of professional players in India. So, tabla became a source of great anxiety. Practicing was a battle to shut out the clamour of self criticism, and stopped being enjoyable, peaceful, and healthy, except for very rare occasions when everything lined up and all I could hear was the music. Practicing used to be joy, and it became a painful prospect I avoided at all costs.

So. Why am I telling you this?

So you will maybe recognize the signs, in yourself, or in someone you know. My tools are: •Mindfulness meditation: simply observing your breath has the amazing ability to push anxiety away so you can get a good look at it (and it's never as bad as you think when it's not clamped on your face, blotting out your vision).
Exercise: work out. It will help you sleep, it will release endorphins that will make you feel good.
•Eat well. Eat yoghurt. There's is a growing body of scientific evidence that our gut biome (intestinal flora, bacteria) has a pretty strong effect on our mood.
Skin contact: if you don't have a lover, get a massage. We are not solitary beings, despite what modern western society would have us believe. We need other people. Depression is isolating. Loneliness is dangerous. Physical contact is important.
•Finish things: the artistic mind often makes grand plans, dream impossible dreams. Don't stop doing that, but also make micro works of art you can complete in a short time. Work on one kaida, even if it's just the theme, 1 variation and the tihai, and record it, perform it for a friend, or just perform it for yourself. The sense of accomplishment will make the next project seem less overwhelming and impossible.
•Talk: This, most of all, is why I'm telling you this. Don't hide what you're going through. That will only increase your isolation. Mental health problems are rife in the world, yet still have massive stigma attached. Tell your closest friend, or a family member. Someone you trust, who loves you, and wants you to be happy. They can be a major source of energy to help you climb out of it. If a friend comes to you seeking help, please don't say 'ah, it'll pass', or 'pull yourself out of it!!'-something you'd never say to someone with a broken bone or a disease. Any contact is incredibly important, so simple conversations, even online chats, may actually be life preserving...you may not realize it, but you're making a difference. Reach out, and recognize when someone is reaching out. Be kind...it costs nothing, and means so much.

ok. I think that's it. Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.

Onto the video above.

I've posted the audio of this here before, but now it has video...one that has come out of some of what I've been going through. This piece is in Chartal Ki Sawari, that uber-lovely 11-beat tala with the swing at the end. This material is all traditional Lucknow repertoire I learned from Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, which I've recorded and posted before, a number of times. The bassline is based on the Jaunpuri gat Chris Hale and I perform together...I'm honestly not sure if it's still in Raga Jaunpuri at this point, but in any case, the tabla is traditional even of the presentation and accompaniment is not. That is Ben Riley on drums, Justin Abedin on guitar, Rich Brown on bass. There's an extended 'even tabla players get grumpy' 11-minute version here, with Chris Hale on Sitar:
https://tala-wallah.bandcamp.com/track/chartal-ki-sawari-extended-dance-mix-2

In closing, I will endeavour to post more regularly...I have a few things I've made in the last little while that are tabla-centric, and while I'm tempted to post them all at once in a big multi-post, I'm going to wait, and spread them out.

Thanks, Anonymous commenter, for sparking the pilot-light. It's amazing what a few kind words can do.

be well,
Ed

PS re 'Surfacing'...a video I made this summer during a rough patch:
Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.
-Albert Szent-Györgyi
Music improvised by Autorickshaw and guests sometime in 2005, with:
Kevin Breit-guitar, Rich Brown-bass, Jonathan Goldsmith-keys, Ed Hanley-tabla, Suba Sankaran-voice, and Debashis Sinha-percussion, at Puck's Farm, Schomberg, Ontario. Recorded and rough mixed by Walter Sobczak. Thanks to Frazier Mohawk.



18 comments:

  1. Great advice, I hope your recovery continues to go well. I can attest to the value and effectiveness of all of your suggestions, except for exercise. Not that it isn't an excellent idea, I'm just too lazy for it. I cook, it relieves a whole lot of the day's stress, and getting back in touch with my love of the art of creating French cuisine has helped me enormously.
    Take care.

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    1. Thanks Mike! Perhaps I'll add cooking, or maybe just a general 'have a hobby' to the list. Good one. Thanks again for your good wishes. Ed

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  2. Depression can take on many forms, we always think of stereotypes, where depressed people can't go to work and have to be on meds and see psychiatrists. Intelligent people, highly achieving people, and sensitive people can fall into a whole different form of depression, whereby life goes on from the outside and no one suspects, but from inside, it is a deep turmoil and a big question that keeps the person feeling they live in a vicious loop.I hope you continue to feel better Ed. Cheers from a friend.

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    1. Thanks anonymous friend! I feel much better having written about it, and even more thanks to the support of everyone who has commented, messaged and emailed about this post. Thank you for your wise words.

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  3. Many thanks for sharing.I commend you on how you are dealing with depression. In the past few years I have met people wo have told me about great musicians who have doubted their own abilities : last week I met someone who told me that Kumar Gandharva said to him: "Music is a cruel master - one that does not forgive anything less than excellence". Someone else told me that he was with his Guru visiting Ustad Vilayat Khan, who pointing to his sitar said, "sometimes I am fearful of it. It is like a snake - I don't know when it will bite me" I hope that you will always remember that while there will always be self doubt (and possibly other detractors), you are giving great joy to many others with your music.

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  4. Sending positive thoughts your way

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  5. Sending positive thoughts your way

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  6. Lovely post, Ed! Thank you for sharing. And look forward to more excellent and enlightening posts from you on this blog. Cheers! :o)

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    1. Thanks Dintoons! I'm planning a couple posts, but first I have to write back to everyone who messaged me... thanks for your support. cheers, E

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  7. Hey Ed, thanks for letting us know. A family member of mine is also battling depression at the moment so I really appreciated your post. I'm forwarding this on to her. Also, sending love to you. Neet

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    1. Thanks Anita, sorry to hear about your family member. Wishing her a speedy recovery. talk soon, we overdue for a hang btw (and now you know why!)

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  8. Thanks Ed for sharing. We performed together during these days and never realized that you're going through all this. I really appreciate you the way you are handling this and I am sure you will come out of this 100%. Wish you all the best!

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    1. Thanks Vandana! I look forward to making music with you again some time! Hope you and Vishwas are well. Cheers.

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  9. posting this great read from The Guardian: Music-making and the myth of the tortured genius
    http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2015/nov/06/music-making-myth-of-the-tortured-genius-mental-health-depression?CMP=twt_a-music_b-gdnmusic?CMP=twt_a-music_b-gdnmusic

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  10. Hello Ed, Thank you for sharing and the tabla community wishes you a very speedy recovery. Continue playing tabla, its really a metamorphosis.

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