Episode 020 - We're All Real Nice, and We're All Assholes

A very Merry Christmas Eve to you all! Here is our last episode of the season, an interview with Curtis Myers, longtime Austin sound engineer and shredder. He’s the perfect person to represent goodwill toward men this holiday! I had a great time talking to him, and I’m grateful to get to work with him day in and day out. All of our best to you and to yours, from me, Flora, and all of ours. See you next year!

Our opening theme is “Start Again” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Except for “Pick Up On My Mojo” by Johnny Winter and “DOA” by Blood Rock, all music for this episode comes from 1 by Cave Pool, which you can find here:

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/cavepool

Here’s the transcript:

Curtis: That’s when I started recording, when I was 10. And I just had like a two-track machine that I could do ping ponging. You record on one track, and then you take that track, and play along with it, and then record onto the other track. So now you have two things on the one track, and then you play that one back and record on it, while you’re erasing the… And you just keep… And then you have three things on that track. And then… And as you go, you sort of lose stuff in the quality.

That’s pretty much how I started in recording and figuring out how to lay down recordings and make sounds and stuff. The guitar just became natural to me. I just sort of understood it, you know. I could look at how other guys were playing, and I said, “Oh, I can do that.” And so I understood that, and then I just was into the guitar like crazy. Then I heard Johnny Winter. Then I heard Jimi Hendrix. The day I bought my first Jimi Hendrix album, the guy at the record store, he said, “Oh, that guy just died today.” And I was pissed at the guy for telling me that. I just was like, “What’d you tell me that for? You just ruined it. He’s my favorite guitar player.”

And then that was in the Philippines, so I bought it at the PX, on base. I was just a military brat. 14. 9th grade. And I was really into Hendrix, and Johnny Winter. I thought everybody else sucked. I kind of liked Clapton a little bit. Thought he was OK, but…I just was into the faster guitar players. Shredders. They didn’t call them shredders back then; they just, guitar players. I don’t know. But I liked Roy Clark, because he was fast. And I liked Glen Campbell, I thought he was pretty good, too. If they played fast, I liked them. I probably didn’t even know who Chet Atkins was at that point.

Rod: So how did you turn it into a professional gig?

Well, I first went to the Teen Club on base, and I played with my band. At first we were called the Thunderbirds, and then we found out there was another band called Thunderbirds. Of course, there’s been probably a lot of Thunderbirds. And then one guy said Blueberry Doorknobs. So that was our name for awhile.

Rod: Must’ve been the ‘60s.

Curtis: Yeah, well, that was about turning into the ‘70s, yeah, about that point. And all I had was, I had a some kind of weird turntable that I’d turned into an amplifier, and it had a 10” speaker that I would set out, and that was my amp. And we just played the shit out of it, you know. We only knew probably four or five songs, and none of us would sing because, you know. But I mean, we’d make a little bit of money. They’d give us french fries, and they’d give us Cokes for playing and stuff.

So then I moved back to the states, here to Austin, and the first band, I mean, within two months, I was playing in a band. I loved playing guitar. I just, I would skip school and go play guitar. And I went to this place, and I met this drummer, and I liked the drummer.  He was 14; I was 16. And he was huge. He was like 6’, and he swole up like, he just started, I don’t know if he was taking steroids or what, but he got real musclebound. And his brother was a guitar player, but I didn’t like him because he was shitty. I thought he was shitty. And then we found this bass player, and he was great, and he was like sasquatch. And I was just a little bitty guy.

And so I played with these guys. I didn’t like standing up when I played, and I didn’t like, and I was writing music, but I didn’t like vocals. I really didn’t like listening to vocals. I’d rather just hear the guitar. So all the music I wrote was all instrumental. And I found out that after I learned a song by Hendrix or Johnny Winter, I didn’t like it anymore when I’d listen to it. So I quit learning other people’s songs because I figured if I learned it, then I wouldn’t like listening to it anymore because it would just kind of, I don’t know. It just did something to me if I learned the song, then it wasn’t any fun playing it or listening to it anymore. It was kind of weird. Now it’s different. Now there’s certain things I like learning, as I’m older now. I’ve learned to appreciate learning other people’s songs, but back then, it was kind of like, “Eh.” It takes the, I don’t know, the fun out of it, once you learn it.

So I basically went playing and playing with these guys, and we got some gigs. We got a Battle of the Bands at the Sacred Heart Church over there on the northeast side of Austin. And we ended up winning it, and I didn’t, we just packed our shit up and left after we played. And then everybody came back to the drummer’s house and says, “You guys won! You guys won!” And said, “Won what?” We didn’t really think of it as… We were just wanting to play. Anywhere we could play, we’d play parties and stuff. And we just had a blast.

And by the time I think we were, the summer was over, the band sort of fell apart because the parents were getting tired of the, the bass player’s parents were telling him, “You’re going to college. You ain’t doing this shit.”  We were all dedicated musicians for about a whole summer. It was hard finding musicians that I was happy with. I had, ended up hanging out with this one bass player for the next two summers, and during school. And we formed a band. We found four guitar players. I was teaching them all the parts. So I was trying to do like orchestrations of my music, and the only thing we had to record was an 8-track. Not an 8-track like in a professional studio, an 8-track tape, you know, and I’d buy blank 8-tracks and record on that, and we had two microphones, we’d stick them in there. And it sounded like shit. It was god-awful. And I took that down to Armadillo World Headquarters, and a matter of fact, Carol was the lady that took my tape. And she listened to it, and she said, “Eh, you guys need a little work.” And so we never did get to play there, but I kept at it.

Then I got to work for, I was, Johnny Winter was coming to town. It was about ‘75, I think. And he was playing with Floyd Radford, another badass guitar player, and it was probably my favorite lineup with Johnny Winter, just because it was a really rockin’ outfit. And I got there at like 9 in the morning, and it was nobody there except the roadies. And I was there, and one of the roadies came up to me, and he goes, “What are you doing here?” I says, “I’m here to see Johnny Winter.” He said, “Well, you’re a little early, aren’t you?” And I said, “Well, I wanted to make sure I got good seats. I’m here to see him.” He says, “You want a job?” And I says, “Sure!” So he just put me to work. He said first thing, he says, “OK, see this thing? Write on this piece of paper ‘Winterbago.’ OK? Just make it big letters. ‘Winterbago.’ One piece of paper.” And so I just took that pen, and I wrote “Winterbago,” and then I says, I started writing all this other stuff on it. “Cool man! Far out!” You know, stuff like that. And the guy comes back, says, “What the hell is this? I said just write ‘Winterbago’ on it.” He flipped it over. “Write ‘Winterbago’ and that’s it.” So I did that, and I said, “OK, I’m sorry man. I’m just excited.” And he says, “OK, what else you want to do?” He says, “How many tickets you need?”

And so I got tickets for all my brother and everybody. I called them up. So we had four seats right there in the front, man. And Point Blank opened up for him, and they kicked ass, and then Johnny Winter came out and just tore it up. And just smokin’. And I was like, “This is the coolest.” We were right up front, had the best seats. And then at the end of the show, the roadie that was put me to work and everything, he says, “Come up here. Come on up.” My little brother came up with me, and we looked kind of alike. And Johnny Winter’s cross-eyed, right, so I had noticed it, because that was the first time I’d seen him up close like that, and so I stuck my hand out to get my hand shaken with Johnny Winter, and my little brother, and Johnny Winter reaches over to my little brother and shakes his hand, and then walks off. And I’m like, “What the fuck?” That’s just the way it was. But it was cool. I still, I’ll never forget that. It was just the greatest day of my life, I thought.

I got more involved into different things, and playing music wasn’t really my big thing anymore. I was trying to support myself, looking for jobs and stuff, and I found out it was hard to find bands that would stay together and really work hard, find dedicated musicians. And so, it was kind of tough, and I ended up doing odd jobs and stuff. But later on, about as I hit about 19, 20, I started really working harder on the music thing. And we went into this one band, and we were called Tough Luck, and we started getting gigs where we were opening up. We opened up for Bloodrock. I don’t know if you remember them. They had the one song, “D.O.A.” “I remember we were flying along and hit something in the air,” and then it would go, “Doo doo doo doo...” They had this big hit. But they were sort of regional. They had a regional hit, you know. And then we opened up for, let’s see, Bloodrock, Bubble Puppy, Leslie West of Mountain. We opened up for them. And we got to play the Armadillo World Headquarters, and so we actually did some stuff, played around, and then our bass player got shot in a drug deal, and then we got all our equipment stolen, and sort of things just went to crap at that point. And that’s why were called Tough Luck. No, that wasn’t why, but we thought Tough Luck was actually a cool name, you know, when… But it wasn’t.

And we sort of had a pretty good following for a local band and stuff. And we did as good as we could, went as far as we could, but they, the paper wrote an article on, the Austin American-Statesman wrote an article, and it was called “Glitter Punk” is what they called us. Our vocals were just really weird, because I had a real low voice, and then the other guitar player had a real high voice, I mean higher than Geddy Lee. So when we sang together, it was kind of neat, but it was just, we just weren’t that great of singers, I think.

But after that, I went to a recording studio. Back then, there was like maybe 4 or 5 studios in town. One of them was Earth and Sky, and it was ran by a guy named Kerry Crafton. And he took me under his wing, started showing me how to record, and how to use the mixing board and stuff. And he used my house for a pre-production studio. He’d come over there, and he’d do his bands. He’d say, “Rehearse over here, then we’ll go over to the studio and lay down some tracks.” And so he started teaching me that, and from there, I got into, I was going to electronics school at the time, and I said, “Oh, I really like electronics, and I might as well get into it,” because I was figuring computers were just about to happen. This was about 1983, ‘84, and all this stuff was happening.

And so I just got into that, and I learned all about electronics, and I learned to record. And then I got an offer with Radio Shack to work on their computers, Tandy Computers, after I finished school, and I moved to Houston. And there I met a guy who had just retired. I got a gig playing this one homeless shelter, and his wife’s sister liked me, so she told him about me. He came and saw me, and I was trying to run live sound and play guitar at the same time, and he says, “Do you mind if I help you out? I can adjust this for you.” And I said, “Sure, go ahead. If you know what you’re doing, that would be great, because I’m having a hell of enough time just playing the damn guitar.” So he started twisting my knobs, and we just started sounding great. And I was going, “Damn, this guy knows what he’s doing.” So I said, “Where’d you learn to do that?” and he goes, “Van Halen.” I’m going, “What?” He says, “Yeah, I used to work for him, but I don’t do that anymore. I got out of the business.” And he sort of showed me a few things, a few tricks here and there, and I learned from that.

Then, after, oh, I guess about three years in Houston, I had had enough of working on computers for all the prisons. There was one day that I walked in, and one of the prisons, I was on death row, and I’m working on the computer, and one of the guys, one of the prisoners walks in, and he goes, “I like computers.” Two guards rushed in and grabbed him, and they came in and said, “Oh, Mr. Myers, we’re sorry about that.” And I said, “OK. That’s all right.” But after that, it was just, I just said, “You know what? I think I’m going to go back to Austin and get out of this business.” And then I moved back to Austin, and I started a little, I built a little recording studio, and from there, it just, I started getting gigs there. And then one day, a friend of mine says, “Hey, Curtis, can you come to the Back Room? Their sound man left.” So that’s how I started getting into live sound. I started working at the Back Room. And that, and the studio, and then I started getting gigs with Johnny Hernández, that’s Little Joe Y La Familia’s brother, and I just started getting all kinds of gigs, and people started hiring me here and there, and I just went crazy after that. I just started doing sound. But I still liked to play guitar.

Curtis: Well, I got to work for Jimi Hendrix once. But he was dead.

Rod: He was already dead!

Curtis: But it was, you know, it’s a pretty cool story. I entered this contest. It was the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition. You had to mail in a tape and everything, so I was like, “Cool.”

Rod: Did you mail in an 8-track?

Curtis: No, it was actually a cassette, and I thought it was a pretty good tape. And it said, just record a couple Hendrix songs and send it in, and I sent it in. And then, the sound company I was working for called me and says, “Hey, I got you a gig. You’re going to be doing sound for the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition.” And I said, “Shit! That means I’m disqualified. I can’t work...” So, but I had, that’s how I made my money. I had to do it. But I got to work it, and I’m sitting there, I ran the sound for everybody in the whole competition, and I was like, “Oh, man. I’m better than all these fuckers.” You know how guitar players are. We can all do that better. So I walk in, after it’s all over, I walk in the green room, and I’d met Jimi Hendrix’s dad. That was cool. I got to meet his dad, talk to him for awhile, and I met his sister. So I got to know them, and that was great. And then, so I walk in the green room, and they’re, all the judges and everybody’s in there,  I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know y’all was in here,” and one of the guys, one of the main judges, I think he was from Fender, he goes, “Wait a minute. What did you… Who did you think was the best?” And I said, “Ah, it was that Italian guy.” And so I walk out, and thinking nothing of it, and then the Italian guy wins.

Two months later, I’m getting ready, I got a gig, and I got my bass player and drummer, I’m calling… I call up my bass player, and I says, “Hey, you ready for the gig? Are you going to come pick me up, or how are we going to do this thing?” or whatever. And he goes, “Oh man, I was going to call you, but I just got this gig. I’m going over to Italy. This guy that won this Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition just hired me to be a bass player.” And I said, “Son of a bitch!” And the guy that it was was the guy that I said, “It was the Italian guy.” So he ended up winning the whole thing worldwide.

Rod: Wow. All on your vote, huh?

Curtis: Yeah, and then, my bass player, I lost my bass player to that guy.

Rod: Casual word in the wrong ear, and all of a sudden you lost your bass player. You’re a dad, right?

Curtis: Yeah. Yeah, I have two wonderful kids. And I found out I have a third kid a couple years ago from when I was out on the road. And the lady finally got a hold of me and told me that we had a son together. He’s 38. He went to Rice University. He played football for Rice. He’s doing fine. He did fine without me, and she did probably a lot better without me than…

Rod: Did you get to meet him and everything?

Curtis: I haven’t met him yet. We… I’m waiting for the opportunity when it’s, when he wants to know about me and all that.

But yeah. And the best I think that I’ve learned as, because I set out to be a rock star, the best guitarist in the world, set all that in my head, but I feel like as I went, I think I learned that the best things in life are just the best things in life, just doing it. And there’s failures and there’s highs and lows, and I think I’ve had a good life at this point. I’m 62 now. I don’t regret a lot of it. There’s things I do regret, of course, but I don’t regret not being a rock star, because it probably would’ve killed me, and I don’t think I would’ve lived to be 62, because I was pretty wild. I had my wild streak. You know, I don’t want to use the names to protect the innocent. But I’m pretty mellow, I think, as far as it goes, and I think it kind of kept me on an even keel.

Rod: You got any other, any other stories? Ones where you don’t protect the innocent?

Curtis: I could say some things about, you know, but there would be times where I would meet musicians, and then they would be, just turn out to be complete assholes. But I think of it now, as I look back, and I think, “Well, they probably were having a bad day, and no telling what they were going through on the other side of it,” and what I could’ve done maybe to make them nicer. And I could mention names, but I don’t want to do that, because a lot of people will have, it could’ve been a bad day they had, and they’re probably really nice people, because we all are. We’re all real nice, and we’re all assholes at the same time, so I don’t want to say any of those bad stories. And I could say some good ones, too, but I think I’ll leave it with the Jimi Hendrix and the Johnny Winter, I think it’s better that way.

Episode 019 - Nothing Out Here Can Stop Me

Today we have a conversation with Brandon Foster, a coworker of mine. Brandon’s has a charisma and energy that I really like and admire. Despite everything he has been and continues to go through, he keeps a positive attitude and a focus on growth. As he says, he’s always grinding. Thanks for taking the time, Brandon.

As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at rod@rodhaden.com.

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Other music used in this episode:

4:14: “Far From Home (and feeling bad)” by Squire Tuck

8:01: “Home at Last” by John Bartmann

17:47: “Get Out” by Jahzzar

24:55: “Get Out of Dodge” by Frenic

32:38: “Roaming the Streets at Night” by Daniel Birch

35:08: “Back Up The Truck Jam” by Podington Bear

39:45: “Homebound” by Audiobinger

Here’s the transcript:

Rod: So where did you come from? How did you get to Austin?

Brandon: I moved to Austin 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the police of Buffalo, New York killed my father, and my uncle came for the funeral of his brother’s death. We sat for the couple of days that he was there, and we vibed, and we had a chance to talk and everything, and he told me about opportunities out here. So, while I was back home in Buffalo, New York, surviving, I had a chance to get online and look for jobs out here. So the first job that offered me an opportunity to come out here, I explained to them that I had tattoos on my face; would that prevent me from getting a job? And they told me no, no problem, come on in. So I winded up calling my uncle, down, calling him, and let him know that I had got a job offer sooner than what we planned for. So he brought me down here. It was all because of my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for the first 6 months when I moved down here, and by me having the mentality that I have, I was already in the “grind and go get it” mode, be on my own, so within 6 months, I kind of was looking for a place, and he was helping me look for a place. So we found a place, and he helped me co-sign the first lease. He helped pay the rent for the first 2 months, so I was rent-free for the first 2 months. I had to get on my grind and do what I do to keep myself out here, unless I would’ve been back on a plane going home. So here I am. If it wasn’t for my father passing, would I be here? Would I not be here? You know, that’s the question I ask myself.

Rod: Do you want to talk about what happened to your dad?

Brandon: My father, the night before he was in jail, me and my father was together. And he wanted me to go out to the club with him and hang out. My dad was a bar owner. He owned a couple different bars, and that particular night, I didn’t want to hang out, so I winded up going back home. And the following morning, I get a phone call from my grandmother saying my father killed himself. My dad was tied up to a pole on his knees by his t-shirt. And Buffalo, New York, the Erie County facility, you have to do your rounds every 15 minutes to check on the inmates. And it took them 45 minutes to do CPR on my dad.

Rod: Were you living with him at the time?

Brandon: No, I wasn’t. I never lived with my dad. I was always with my mother. Him and my mother had always had their differences, so we’d always go to my dad’s house on the weekends.

Rod: How old were you?

Brandon: When he passed away? I was 23. So they did the 45 minutes CPR and brought him back to life, but he was basically like a vegetable. The hardest thing was sitting at the table with nothing but doctors, and my mother, and my uncle, and all eyes on me. They wanted… I’m the one that has to answer the question of pull the plug or not on my father. And it’s like, do I let him live? Look at him, like he is? Or just let him go? So at the age of 23, that was the most hardest thing for me.

Since I’ve been here, I lost my father. I lost my brother. I lost my sister. I lost my niece. My niece hung herself 2 years ago. She was found in the closet by her mother. When I got that phone call, it was very crazy, very crazy phone call.

After my niece, I buried my other brother. So I lost about 6 people since I’ve been here, in the past 6 years. It’s hard being away because it’s like when you get certain phone calls, and people need help, and you can’t do nothing because you’re so many miles away, and it’s like, what do you do? What do you do? And you try to make phone calls to other people to see if they can get to the situation and handle it for you. I just really hate getting phone calls and not knowing if it’s good or bad or not. In the past 6 years, no matter, I tell myself now, no matter what phone call I get, early morning, I’m always going to think bad, always going to think it’s something bad happening because it’s been going on for the past 6 years, and that’s what haunts me. No matter what, 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning, if my phone is ringing, I’m always jumping up thinking something bad is happening back home. It’s crazy that I feel like that, but I do. So I don’t necessarily miss home. There’s nothing there. I miss my family, that’s it. If I could bring them all down, then I feel like I did my job. They still surviving. I’m living.

Rod: Are you the baby?

Brandon: No, I’m the middle child, so I have my oldest brother. He was 32. He passed away, he just turned 33. So he was back home at a club, and a fight led from inside the club, and it led to outside the club. A couple guys left; they came back, and they shot the bar up, and my brother winded up getting hit by a stray bullet in his head, and one in his neck. That was hard as well, getting that phone call at 3 in the morning.

So my sister, I say it’s my sister because my brother’s wife, so my sister-in-law if you want to technically say it like that. So she passed away first, and a couple years, two years later, he passed away. She died at the age of 29. She was fighting cancer all her life. She had her foot amputated at a young age, so all her life, she was going back and forth to the hospital, just treatments and treatments. And it was falling to a point where she knew that she was going to be taking her last breath in a couple months. So we just basically prepared ourselves for it, because she knew that, we knew that she was in those stages. So, you know, you got to prepare. You’re just hoping for the best, but you’re prepared for the worst. It was sad, but I was prepared for it. That’s all I can do.

My second oldest brother was 31, or 30, when he passed away. He was in jail for 25 years to life, and he did 15 before the cancer got the best of him. He was facing cancer for eight years and never told nobody until he was on his deathbed. That was an unexpected death, so that kind of hit hard.

Rod: Do you think him seeing her go through it was why he didn’t tell anybody? Like he didn’t want to put people through what…?

Brandon: Probably, but my brother always been a quiet person. He never really was into the social media kind of things, or he was never into the limelight, but at the same time, my brother spent most of his life in jail, in and out of jail, so he didn’t really have a chance to be on the streets of Buffalo, New York. Probably a year or two, he had a chance to be out, but my brother was in and out of jail his whole life at a young age, I mean literally. When he went to, when he was facing 25 years to life, he was young. He was about, I want to say almost 18, 19 himself. He died in the hospital of cancer, stage 4 cancer, some kind of skin cancer. It was hard. It was hard.

And my little brother is 28. He’s been incarcerated for the past 6 ½ years due to a robbery. He came home for 10 months, and he violated parole, so he’s back in jail now. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to come home, try to do something with his life.

I don’t talk about my problems, or anything like that, so I may tend to shed a tear or what not, but I’m OK. I can talk about it. I just don’t know who, you know, how people are going to take it. And it’s like the things that we talk about, it may be some things that people may not want to hear, or people may be scared, but I don’t want you to take that and make your perspective on that. Just look at me now. The things I’ve been through is what’s making me the man I am today. Every day, I’m trying to change, some way, somehow, shape or form. If that’s helping somebody else, then so be it. So I’m really open to whatever, it’s just how open are you to hear the things that you want to hear?

Rod: Do you ever get down, like “Why me? Why all of this in my family?” Do you get like, “That’s not fair?”

Brandon: I ask that every day. I’m not one of them guys that go to church every Sunday. I didn’t grow up in church. I believe in God, but I don’t believe you have to go to church to be surrounded by colorful windows and hear praises and everything to believe in the Man. So we have our talk. God gives his worst battles to his strongest soldiers. I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still going to go through things in life that’s going to be bad, worse, so I feel like if I can get through the things I’ve been through back home on the streets of Buffalo, New York, then nothing out here can stop me.

Rod: Is it strange to you, like getting older? Getting, like thinking about someday being older than they were? Like you’re the oldest now?

Brandon: Yeah, I’m the oldest now, living. So it’s just me and my little brother left. That’s why I work hard every day and try to better myself, so that way, I could try to get him down here with me.

Rod: That gives you a sort of sense of responsibility being the oldest one now?

Brandon: Yeah, definitely a responsibility. I was always the… not say always, but I was more of always the caretaker, like taking care of everybody back home when I was home. So now it’s like even more hard trying to take care of everybody being so far away. I just try to take it one day at a time and stay focused. I just grind hard every day, trying to come up with a master plan to figure out how can I make more money a positive way.

So it’s just a blessing to be here, having opportunities to sit right here with you and have this conversation, and people get a chance to see a different side of Brandon, not knowing the B Boy. That’s my nickname, B Boy. But I kind of stopped calling myself that because I don’t consider myself B Boy no more. B Boy was somebody who was in the streets heavy, who did a lot of activity that wasn’t right. As I get older, I’m just realizing that that’s not my name, and I don’t want to carry that on no more, so when people would call me that, I’d tell them, “Don’t call me that, because that’s not me.”

Everything happens for a reason, but it’s all about timing. Anything lost can be found again except for time wasted. So I try not to waste time on things that don’t benefit me or what I’m trying to do.

Rod: That’s why you left?

Brandon: I left because I just had a, you know, I had the opportunity to get a better chance at life and to just stop doing the things I was doing and living the lifestyle I was living. I didn’t have a pretty good childhood growing up. My father was around, but he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn how to play basketball. I didn’t learn how to do fatherly things with their son. Like when I went to my dad’s house on the weekends, I learned about different kinds of drugs and things that kids shouldn’t learn at a young age.

Rod: When your uncle talked about you coming here, were you already looking to get out, or that hadn’t even occurred to you, or…?

Brandon: Before my uncle talking to me, no, I wasn’t looking to get out. I was, I had a job. I was working for a private security company, and we traveled throughout the United States, so the job can last for a day, it can last for six months, it can last for a year. And we did things such as fire disasters, rural response, strike work, you know, things like that. So I was doing that on and off for like a year or two before I had the opportunity to come out here.

Rod: Wow. My brother worked, when he was in his early 20s, he did clean up after fires and all that kind of stuff. He said that was a horrible job.

Brandon: It was, but you get paid good money, though. I was loving it. I was young. I don’t have no kids now, I didn’t have no kids then. So it was an opportunity to see other things, even though I was stuck in the streets of Buffalo, New York. I had an opportunity to get out and see different things. I wasn’t really fully developed as far as trying to get out what I was in, but it did give me a chance to open my eyes up a little bit more. But at that time, I still wasn’t fully ready to just switch my whole life around.

I mean, I always had goals. I always wanted to be my own contractor, but I never really took the steps in going to that direction. But I’d love to remodel houses and do construction and landscaping and things like that. That was always my goal was to be my own contractor. I’m different in ways of not doing the things I used to do. I don’t hang around the same crowd of friends that I used to have. The friends I have now are amazing. They’re all doing something positive in their life.

My job gave me an opportunity to go on a business trip, and on that business trip, there was over 65 people in that conference, and there was only two black people. And I was the youngest one. And when I went there, I went there with the perception of, how was I going to be able to uphold conversation with some of these big people in high positions? I didn’t really have the qualifications, or it felt like I didn’t meet the criteria to be at this conference. So for the week that I was preparing myself, I was really trying to figure out, was I going to be able to handle it? And when that time came, all I can do is just be myself. So that’s what I did, and within those 72 hours, I took notes. I asked questions. I was being proactive. And a couple of different big people in high positions pulled me to the side, and they didn’t have to do that. So when they pulled me to the side, they’re talking to me about different things in life, and goals, where I want to be, where do I see myself. And it really dawned on me when I got back to my bed, and I asked myself, “Well, Brandon, what do you really want in life? Where do you see yourself?” And the only thing that’s really holding me back is myself, because I’m a young black man with a tattoo on my face. I have no felonies, by the grace of God, or anything like that, so really, it’s really me that’s holding me back. So I said, “You know what, Brandon? You’ve been here for six years. You’ve been closing chapters of your life since you’ve been here. You need to take this step and close this one.” So I just got online one day and looked up Eraser Clinic, and I gave them a call. And I’m taking my steps on getting my tattoo laser removed from my face. So going to that conference really gave me a different perspective on life. So I have 12 treatments altogether. They do my treatments every 6 to 8 weeks to give it time to heal. But hopefully by the end of next year, March, it’ll be completely gone. So it’ll be a whole new Brandon.

Rod: Were you afraid at that conference that that tattoo was shaping how people saw you? Do you think it did?

Brandon: Honestly, yes. I was afraid that people was going to judge me. You know, they say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But there’s also a saying, “There’s no second chance at a first impression.” So I was going there being myself, but at the same time trying to be distanced because I didn’t want nobody to just stare and look and say, “What is that?” And you know, people asked me. They did. “What is that? What is that?” I tell them, “Everything is for a reason. Some things are just not meant to be talked about.” So I left it as that. And you know, people, at the end of the day, they loved me because I was being myself. I was being very talkative, and I was going around just being proactive and being in the mix of everybody and asking questions and talking and mingling and being very open with everyone. And so when I got back, and I called that tattoo laser removal, I just was ready. I was more eager then than I was last year or four months ago, prior to the conference. Before the conference, I wasn’t even ready to remove it. So within those three days of me being there, it just really gave me a whole outlook on life and said that there is more. You can do more. You can achieve more. The only thing holding you back is yourself, so I’m taking that next step, trying to close that chapter and elevate.

Rod: You having any feelings about it? Like you feel like you’re betraying who you used to be, or betraying people you used to know, or…?

Brandon: Not necessarily. Not at all. At the end of the day, it’s still with me. I know that. But I don’t have to show it, people don’t have to have a second judgement on me, or just figure out what does that mean? Because there’s been times I done walked into places and instead of getting a hello, I’m getting a what does that mean? What does that tattoo mean on your face? I mean literally, the first thing that’s coming out of people’s mouths, so I just don’t want that no more, for them or for myself. I was 17 when I got it. I wasn’t expecting to live, so I really didn’t care about it. I didn’t really care about the consequences. I didn’t care about what people say. I didn’t care about what people anything. I didn’t care about nothing. So now that I’ve had this opportunity to be out here, it’s all about growth. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Just grow day by day, some way, somehow, and I’m taking the steps with that.

Rod: What’s the chapter that you were closing? What does the tattoo represent to you? Like why did you get it?

Brandon: I was young when I got this tattoo. I was about 17. I wasn’t expecting to live past 21 the way I was going. I used to be in a gang. I used to sell drugs. I used to do the whole 9. That’s the way I was going, dead or in jail. I dropped out at 9th grade. I got my GED. And I wasn’t expecting to live past 21, so I didn’t care about nothing. I did some things in my life that I wasn’t, I’m not proud of, but when you come from where I come from, you have no choice but to do what you have to do to survive. So I managed to still get through it, and by the grace of God, I’m still here. Some people don’t get a chance to make it, to see 30. So I’ve done some things in my life that made me who I am now. I’m not the best, but I am a better man I am today than I was six years ago.

Rod: You talk about closing that chapter by having the tattoo removed. What are you taking with you from that chapter, from those days? What are the good things that came out of that that you still carry with you as part of yourself today?

Brandon: It just gives me a chance to look back and say, “Damn. If I can make it, and these young guys made it through the things that they’ve been through, then we all can make it. We all can make it. So just the fact that I can get on social media and look at some of the guys and see them doing positive things in the Air Force and meeting counselors and different lawyers and senates for the New York State, it just gave me a different outlook, like there’s more to it. So I say, “You know what, Brandon? You need to go ahead and close it.” I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t ready.

Rod: What do you think are your strengths, like the characteristics that are part of who you are that are going to help carry you where you want to go in the world?

Brandon: I want to say everything I’ve been through is my strength. I still go through things to this day. For six years, I’ve been getting phone calls every morning, and it’s always been something bad. Someone has died. So I think that is what scars me, is going to scar me for the rest of my life, getting those early morning phone calls. But at the same time, it’s motivation, because it gets me up to knowing that I have to strive and grind every day to make it better for myself. Having my father in my ear and my brothers on my back. Knowing that I got nieces and nephews to take care of, and a mother to take care of. Knowing that I have a little brother that’s incarcerated that needs to come home one day. Hopefully I can get him a chance to come out here and make a better life for him as well.

I was always born to be a leader, so I kind of take that and try to mold it into my work ethic, and grind hard, and show them that just because I have this tattoo on my face, don’t judge me by that. Let my work ethic speak for itself. I love to work. I’ve always been a working man, no matter how much I was in the streets back home. I always kept a job for myself. It always just kept me going. I love to hustle. I love to work. I like to get my hands dirty. I don’t like just sitting around not doing nothing.

I’ve been through a lot. It makes me the man I am today. I come from a place where it’s a jealous city. It’s a bad place to grow up. There’s no good schooling for kids. There’s no opportunities for jobs out there. I mean, you can’t be doing good and let someone see you doing good, because instead of it being motivation for them, they want to go try to rob you, to take your stuff or what you have and what you’ve been working on. And it’s just sad. It really is sad.

Rod: You said you don’t have any kids, right?

Brandon: No, I just turned 30. No kids, no girlfriend, no wife. Nothing like that. I thought I would.

Rod: Is that important to you?

Brandon: It is important. I do want kids. I do want a wife. I want a family. I’ve been to more funerals than weddings. So I’m definitely not trying to go that route. I want to have kids. They can have different lives. They don’t have to go through the things I go through or deal with the things I deal with or seeing the things I’ve seen or anything like that. I want them to have normal lives, be a normal kid, do what kids do. Kid things. I want a son, so I can show him how to treat a lady by the way I treat his mother. I want a daughter, so I can know what she can look for in a man by the way I treat her mother. Until I have that, I’m just going to continue working and grinding hard and try to secure my bag, until that lady comes.

I don’t know. You know, when I was younger, I was always scared of rejection. I used to always thought I was the ugly fat kid, or being around my friends. So I would never talk to girls. I didn’t go to clubs when I was younger. I wasn’t doing the club scene. I wasn’t going to parties or different things like that, so I just really stayed to myself and my area.

Rod: You just talk to everybody. You’re not shy any more.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s why I am who I am now, because you just, you’re either going to get somewhere, or you’re not. You’re going to gain something, or you’re going to be back where you started. So that’s who I am now, very forward, just straight forward, just trying to get in and get somewhere. So I’m growing. That’s all I’m doing. Growing.

I like to get out and do different things, try different things. Being here in Austin, there’s all kind of things to do. You can do something every day. Where I come from, there was nothing to do. There’s nothing to think about but trying to live. But being out here, you can go… I go tubing. I go water rafting. I go jet skiing. I like to go to the mountains and go hiking. I want to go see the Inner Space caves out here, that they have out here. I like to do indoor skydiving. I’m down for adventures. I like being open to new things.

Rod: You seem like you’re good at making connections and making relationships. It’s always about who you know. It’s always about who you know, who you can help, who can help you, and I think you’ve got the skill.

Brandon: Yeah, you know, that’s crazy, because I was just telling somebody that last night. In this world nowadays, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As long you know the right man or woman in the position, you can get the things that you need to get done. I want to start getting more involved in it. I don’t have to just be secluded in my area. I want to be able to mingle and talk to different people. I used to work at nights when I first started there. I used to work night shift, 10pm to 6:30am, and being on nights, you don’t see nobody in the day, so nobody knows you. By working nights, when you have meetings in the daytime, and you got to go to these meetings, and everybody’s talking to everybody, but you’re stuck at a table with your group of night crew, and nobody’s not mingling to you. So when I had the opportunity to come on days, I made sure that I was going around to different departments, showing my face, talking to them and being open and just showing them I’m here. I made it. Don’t nobody know, didn’t know me or know my story or anything like that. I was just trying to get more open within the company myself, because by me being myself and going around and being proactive.

Just trying to stay positive with the things I’m doing, trying to stay with positive people in my life. So I’m just glad to be here, having an opportunity to come to Austin, Texas and open my doors to people if I can and show them that there is a better way. You know, my dad always told me, “If it’s going to make me mad, don’t do it.” So I still think about that. If it’s going to make him mad, I don’t do it, even though he’s deceased. So I carry that with me throughout my day to day basics or what I do and how I go about it. I’m just trying to better myself at every aspect that I can. Hopefully this will reach out to somebody young, old, who knows? Just get them a different perspective on life as well. There’s more to life than just doing the same thing that you’re used to doing.

Episode 017 - The Comeback

At the age of 27, Travis Mann got a crash course in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a neurological disorder that started as what he thought was just a lingering respiratory infection. Suddenly, he found himself in a Critical Care Unit too weak to function. This is his story of facing his fears, the long, slow recovery, and the depression that followed.

Our theme music is "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. Other music in this episode is:

5:33    "Out of Paradise" by Lobo Loco

11:32    "Anxiety" by Kai Engel

15:29    "Peace Within" by Peter Rudenko

19:03    "Somber Heart" by Lee Rosevere

22:37    "Marathon Man" by Jason Shaw

26:33    "Peace Flower" by Ketsa

32:49    "Travel Light" by Jason Shaw

Transcript:

Travis: My name is Travis Mann, and I’m a teacher. I teach Business and Technical Writing, which sounds boring, but I make it fun. At least I think I do. There’s no wood around here to knock, but… I do that. I also do contracting a lot right now to train some medical assistants to become medical assistants, and I’ve got three kids, one beautiful wife, a dog, and my two chickens, and a cat that’s driving me crazy, so…

Flora: Chickens!

Travis: Yeah.

Flora: And you’ve always lived over here? Or in Texas?

Travis: Pretty much in Texas. I grew up in the military. My dad was in the Army, and we traveled all over, from California to Georgia to South Carolina. And my parents divorced when I was 12, and we moved back to Weatherford, which is a little town outside of Fort Worth, and then I came down here to Austin after I fell in love with my wife.

Flora: How did you get into teaching?

Travis: I got into teaching not on a whim but just on a… I was in higher education fundraising for the longest time, where I raised money for colleges, and I was working at a medical school, and I have always wanted to try my hand at teaching something. So I knew one of the presidents of one of the community colleges there, and she sent me down to the English Chair. And I went and met with her, and we talked for about 20, 30 minutes, and there was only one class I could teach, which was a developmental class, Developmental English. And after 30 minutes, she pushed the books across the way to me and said, “Go get ‘em, tiger.” That’s all the training I had to be a teacher. And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I got this,” and… The first day I woke up, and I thought, “What the heck am I doing? I have no idea how to teach.” And by the third day, I walked out, and I found myself saying aloud, “This is what I want to do. I can’t believe they’re going to pay me for this.”

Flora: Wow. That’s awesome, to discover something accidentally.

Travis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially something I love to do. It’s not always perfect, but it’s so fascinating to me. So, and here I am.

Flora: And here you are. When I emailed you, and I asked you what transformation story would you like to tell, and you, I hope I’m going to pronounce this right. Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Travis: Exactly. Guillain-Barré is exactly what it was.

Flora: And you had that in your late 20s, and you said it was the worst thing and the best thing that ever happened to you, so please share.

Travis: Yeah. OK. So I was 27, and one Sunday I took a run, and I ran about six or eight miles, and had a fantastic run. Felt good, felt great, that kind of stuff. And within two weeks after that, I was in a cardiac care unit, a critical care unit, and I could barely move. And so, it was a weird juxtaposition in my head to see I was able to run here, and then all of a sudden, I’m in a critical care unit. After that Sunday run, a couple days later, I started feeling bad, got an upper respiratory infection, coughing, all that kind of stuff. But something was different about this, and I kept feeling weaker and weaker and weaker, and the doc just said, “We think you’re sick with a cold.” But then I got up one Friday morning, and you know, a gallon of milk, how you have to pop the top off? I couldn’t do it, and I thought to myself, “Something is really, really not right.” And so I called my best friend who was a doctor, he said, “Come to the hospital.” He was working in the E.R., so…

Flora: Were you living by yourself at that time?

Travis: No, I was married to my second wife, Malisa. And went down there, and they ran all these tests, and they brought in infectious disease people and all that kind of stuff. It was actually my best friend’s nurse who says, “I think you may have Guillain-Barré.” And then my friend the doctor said, “Wow, I never even considered that.” So what they do is they do a spinal tap, and they check out fluids in your spinal tap, and sure enough, that’s what it was.

Guillain-Barré’s a strange syndrome. It’s not something you can catch. It’s something where the body turns on itself, and the immune system starts attacking cells. And it’s the long nerves that run to your hands and fingers from your brain. They’re covered in a tissue that’s called myelin. And the, your white blood cells and all that kind of start eating away the myelin on the sheaths, and so you don’t conduct electricity down to your hands and your feet, and it goes from exterior extremity in.

Flora: At this point, did you know what that syndrome was?

Travis: I had heard of it, and we had looked it up online, but that’s about it.

Flora: How were you feeling at that time?

Travis: Scared. I was very afraid, mostly because out of ignorance. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what would happen, what could happen. Then of course, you know, when you hit that spot, you begin to look like at worst case scenarios. And worst case scenarios is in a wheelchair and all that stuff if you don’t recover well. I’m like, “Great!” Guillain-Barré made a big appearance in the United States. It’s typically, 90% of the time, it’s kicked off by an upper respiratory infection, but sometimes vaccines or shots can cause the body’s immune system to turn on itself.

Flora: What are some of the, I guess the first physical symptoms that you felt?

Travis: Weakness. You know, walking was difficult. Picking stuff up was difficult. As it progresses, you get weaker and weaker, and the one place you don’t want to go is when your diaphragm gets affected, and it becomes difficult to breathe. They put you on a ventilator. And if they put you on a ventilator, the outcomes are not as good as doing without a ventilator, and so I was just like determined not to go on a vent. I was in Critical Care Unit. I was there between, a little over, right under three weeks. What they do is, there’s two treatments for it. One is a steroid injection, series of steroids, or what they call plasmapheresis. Plasmapheresis, they use a dialysis machine. They pump your blood out, and they remove the plasma. And then they put all the cells with fresh plasma back in. Which sounds weird, but by the second time, I could tell it had arrested my fall, my slide down.

And nights in the Critical Care Unit were the hardest because I don’t sleep well. Never really have. But in a situation like that where they close your door a little bit, but they leave it open so they can check on you, and there’s always people moving and that kind of stuff. And it was middle of the night, so it’s like, “What happens if I don’t…” You know, it’s the what ifs that occur.

Flora: Like what if you stop breathing? Like that kind of fear?

Travis: No. What if I don’t recover? I wasn’t too concerned about myself in the moment, because I had read enough. By the first week, we had a really good idea what it was and had it arrested, and that kind of stuff. But some people don’t recover as well, and I was like, “What if I’m one of those people that doesn’t really recover from this?”

Flora: And who was your biggest support during that time?

Travis: It was my wife, Malisa. Very supportive. And the funny thing is, people would come in and see me, and because of how the disease process works, and it takes away the ability to conduct signals between your brain and parts of your body, my whole face was, I looked great, because there were no wrinkles, there were no nothing, because of the disease process. People would come in and go, “You look great!” And I’m like, “Ugh. Thank you. I appreciate you telling me I look great, but I don’t feel great.”

But it was about the second week in that I woke up from a dream, and I can’t remember the dream to this day. I just remember that it was something that was going to happen, and I really had this feeling of, I had a feeling of “It’s going to be OK. I don’t know why.” I’m not a religious guy. Fairly agnostic. But something beyond me let me know that it would be OK.

Flora: Oh, wow.

Travis: And in that moment, I thought, “Wow. This is absolutely horrible, and this is absolutely great.” Because it really taught me about myself, my world, and the world itself. Yeah, it was a transformative experience. It wasn’t all good, but life is never all good.

Flora: No, it isn’t.

Travis: You have to take the pieces as they come and decide how you’re going to look at yourself and look at these things that happened to you. So, yeah. And then they finally moved me out of Critical Care when I finished my plasmapheresis, there were five of them, and that was odd because it’s a strange feeling to watch your blood come out and circulate through here and then come back in through another tube, and it was kind of weird, and it was cold. Freezing cold. So after five treatments, they moved me out of Critical Care, and because I was an employee at the hospital, and fairly high up in the rankings, they gave me this big, beautiful room, right? The VIP room. And that was nice, but after a week, I’m like, “I gotta get out of here.” Because I just had to get home and get some sleep. You know, they come in at 2 in the morning and draw blood, all that kind of stuff, and you wake up, and just, I just wanted rest. So my wife picked me up. Everybody knew I was going home, so they were like, “All right, if something happens, you call us. We’ll come get you.” And I’m like, “Yep. That’s fine.”

So we went out to get Mexican food, because I had eaten hospital food for the longest time, and I could barely cut the stuff on my plate, but I was determined to eat. By the time I was done eating, I’d only been out of the hospital for 45 minutes, I was wiped out. Malisa had to help me up the stairs, we lived on the second floor in an apartment, and it was a realization that I’ve got a long way to go. I was so tired just from leaving the hospital, getting in the car, and walking in the restaurant. And that was a strange feeling. Again, I kept thinking, “Wow, six weeks ago, I was running six to eight miles and getting ready for a marathon. And now I can barely walk.”

We lived on the second floor, so I started taking the stairs down to the landing and going up. I’d have to go back to bed. It was, your muscles, it’s fascinating how much strength you lose by laying in bed doing nothing. I mean, it was just really hard, but Malisa would get up, and we’d walk down to the stop sign and then come back, and then walk down this road, and you know, I just kept doing it over and over and over.

And I wasn’t back at work yet. I guess it was about right at three months that I went back to work. And I didn’t want to go back. I just was like wanted to just hide. And little did I know, I was suffering from pretty severe depression at that point. Depression just because even though I knew, I felt myself getting better, it was a depression like, “Dang, why did this happen to me?” And even though I had that feeling that I’d be OK, it’s still a depression.

And there was one time that I realized I was, not contemplating suicide, but thinking about suicide, because there comes a point where sometimes you just want whatever you’re going through to end. And I was coming down a road, and I was coming over a hill, coming down the hill, and it was a four lane, and I was in the left lane, and this 18-wheeler was coming at me, and I thought, “Wow, it’d be so easy just to drift over in that lane.” And I had to pull over and say, “Wait a minute.” Because that was, that scared me. And so, got some help. Started taking medication. I’m a big one for therapy.

Flora: Oh yeah, me too.

Travis: Yeah, because it does wonders. They usually tell you what you already know, but you know how that works.

Flora: Yeah, so when you were in that moment, thinking about taking your life, what made you decide not to do that?

Travis: It scared me that that thought even came into my head. And it wasn’t a thought of, “I’m going to do it.” It was a what-if. “What if I did this?” And that frightened me just to be thinking that way. And I know throughout life, some of us do the same thing, you know, we think, “This is just not worth it.” That kind of stuff.

Flora: And this moment came after, how long has it been since you left the hospital and back at home?

Travis: I was about a month after I was back at work, I was still, I was trying to go to work full time, and I would make it until 11 or 12, and I just was wiped out. I had a boss who was, we got along pretty well, but every once in awhile, we’d tangle. And he kept telling me, “You just gotta come back to work. You just gotta come back to work.” And he wasn’t doing it for the job; he was doing it more from my perspective. And he was absolutely right. After awhile, I figured out, “Yeah, I gotta get back in this routine. I need to have that routine of coming to work.” And he was absolutely right.

Flora: Did you have physical therapy? What did you have to do?

Travis: Yeah, I had all kinds of physical therapy, and putting my fingers together, and that kind of stuff.

Flora: And then you also had therapy for your depression as well.

Travis: Yeah.

Flora: And did it help?

Travis: Yeah. It took about two years before I got off of meds, and that’s kind of classic for depression. But the nice thing that happened was almost a year from the day that I went in, I ran a marathon. And it wasn’t great time, but I completed the marathon. That’s what I’d wanted to do anyway. It was my first one. And it was a lot of fun. I felt closure at that point.

Flora: That’s awesome.

Travis: Still wasn’t back all the way. My feet still bother me, because the extremities, it’s neuropathy, there and in my hands sometimes too. So, but I’m, I would call myself completely healed.

Flora: Wow. And there is no cure for it, right?

Travis: No, there’s just treatment. And some people don’t do well, and for about seven years after that, every time somebody was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré of any form, there are different forms, I’d get the call. “Can you come down and talk to this person?” “Yep.” So…

Flora: And how long would you say it took you to fully recover?

Travis: Probably about three years. About three years from when it started.

Flora: And you ran the marathon how many years?

Travis: A year after.

Flora: Wow, you weren’t even fully healed, but you still did it. Wow.

Travis: I still did it. So I am happy, healthy. I feel great. It was a transformative experience. Sometimes I find myself forgetting about it, and that may be a weird way to say it, but I’ve been thinking about it since I knew I was coming to see you, and I look back and can’t remember the bad stuff as much as I can remember the good stuff. And that’s good for me, because I’m one of those, not really doom and gloom, but it’s like, “What if this goes bad, and this goes bad, and that goes…?” And I’m trying to teach myself not to think that way. I don’t think you can unthink something, but you can recognize when you’re doing something that’s detrimental to yourself.

Flora: Yes, for sure. Especially at our age.

Travis: Yeah, especially at our age.

Flora: Yes. So what are some of the good things that you thought of that came out of this?

Travis: My wife at the time was just fantastic. She was my best friend, and she was my wife, and she was really good to me. And I had so many people that came out of the woodwork to offer help. You know, everybody says, “Let me help. What can I do?” That kind of stuff. And nine times out of ten, there’s nothing anybody can do, but then there would be that one person that would come along, and they’d say that, and you’d say, “Yeah, this is what I need.” And man, they’d do it right then, which is cool. So, yeah.

Flora: Yeah. And what would you say is, obviously the worst part was thinking that you will, might not recover. But was there anything else?

Travis: I guess maybe most of it is mental at that point. That you’re thinking, you can “what if” yourself into a corner really quickly. And a couple of times in the middle of the night, I found myself painting myself in the corner, and I had to stop and visualize that this was going to be OK. And so, that taught me a little about myself in terms of recognizing to step back and look back at what I’m thinking, and why am I thinking that, and is it doing me any good. And if it’s not, I need to quit and do something different. Think something different.

I did tai chi after Guillain-Barré for about four years and loved it and would like to get back into it again, but it just takes a commitment. But there was one time that I was doing tai chi, and it’s just slow movements up and down and that kind of stuff, and I turned to do another movement, and inside my head, this big void opened up. And it was black and darkness and quiet, and not scary, but it was something that I still don’t understand. And it just stayed with me throughout the whole series of movement and then kind of receded. I still don’t know what it is. And I was asking the tai chi guy. I’m going, “Dude, this is what happened to me,” and this kind of stuff, and he goes, “Yep. Sounds like something happened.” And that’s all he said. So it was a strange, comforting, you know, it wasn’t scary. It was just there. A feeling of a void, of complete blackness, of emptiness. But again, not scary, and not a void that needed to be filled, just a presence of something.

Flora: What did you take away from that experience? I mean, what did you learn about yourself?

Travis: Probably the things I learned the most were that no matter what, it’s going to be OK. Had I ended up in a wheelchair, it would’ve been OK. That’s just the way life goes, and we’ve all been around the bend a couple times, and you learn to... Not giving up, but accepting how things are going and how things are. I also learned to depend on myself more, to trust myself. I trusted my reactions more. I also learned that people step out of regular life many times, meaning, you know, you go to work, you go to work, you have three weeks off a year, you go on vacation, whatever, and you come back and go to work. And here was a moment where I didn’t work. I didn’t work for almost three months, and it was a weird feeling. But it also was like, “What if I didn’t work? How would it be?” Well, wouldn’t have as much income, and that kind of stuff. But how… We get stuck on treadmills. So what would it be like not to have to work like that? And so I built that in, my wife and I have a plan for, we’re going to work for five more years, and then we’re going to look around and say, “What do we really want to do? Do we want to keep doing this for the sake of doing it, or do we want to do something different?” And so we’re both leaning toward doing something different, like moving to Mexico, buying a small place on a little island off of Cancun, staying there for six months and then going to Portugal for six months and living there. So I can still teach. I can teach online.

Flora: That’s true.

Travis: And if I taught two classes a semester, that’ll cover our living expenses. So I don’t know. We’re toying with these ideas and stuff.

Flora: And I love that, the way you can switch your perspective to something positive, or think that, like you said, acceptance, that “Yes, even if I am in a wheelchair, it’ll be OK.” Now, were you always like that, or is that from there on you became that way?

Travis: No. I think that was the turning point, when I was, this happened when I was 27. I look back, and 27 was one of my favorite ages. Everybody’s like, “Oh, I want to be ‘X’ again.” Never want to go back to high school; never want to go back to teenage stuff. But 27 was pretty cool, except for Guillain-Barré. But you know, it was pretty cool.

Flora: What advice do you have for the next generation about living their best life?

Travis: I’m a college professor, and what we are doing poorly as a society is, we’re demanding that 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds make a decision on what they want to do for the rest of their life. That is frickin’ wrong.

Flora: Yep. I agree.

Travis: That is just… Yeah, I mean, you see it. You know, we’re like, “OK, what are you going to do?” Like my oldest son, he graduates from UT next year with a Computer Science degree, and the first year he was at UT, he lived on campus. I’m the one that helped clean his dorm out, so it was just me and him, and we’re pretty close. And we were driving back home, and I said, “How was it?” And he goes, “It was OK.” And it was at that moment that I realized, he really, he can do this work, but it’s not going to really excite him. So I started asking him, I always ask people, if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do? Anything in the world, what would you do? He goes, “I think I’d be a writer or a journalist.” And he’s a very good writer, and I teach writing, and you know, I always look through his papers, and his papers were well above what others were writing. And I said, “Well, do both. You can be a writer about or a journalist about technology and that kind of stuff.” So my advice is, if you want to do something, do it. I would also encourage everyone, especially young people, 16 to 25, whatever: travel. Go overseas, so how other people live. Come back, and you’ll appreciate things like our toilets, our dishwashers, that kind of stuff.

Flora: Central air.

Travis: Central air, yeah, no kidding. Oh my God. But I traveled when I was a teenager, because when my parents divorced, my dad moved overseas with the military, and so we’d go spend summers with him. So I went to Turkey and Germany and other places in Europe, and it was just eye-opening, even as a 14-year-old. The travel to learn different cultures and see different cultures and see how people live is imperative to our success as a nation at this point. I’m afraid, you know, this is not doom and gloom, this is real fear of our nation changing coming up. You know, I won’t get into political discussions, but it’s just frightening.

Flora: It is.

Travis: We’re an experiment. Democracy is an experiment, and in two years, we could be, it could be totally different.

Flora: I asked, this is something that I want to ask in all my interviews, my last question. What is your superpower?

Travis: I love that question. I use that same question in my class as well, too.

Flora: Oh, cool.

Travis: I think my superpower, and this is really weird. This is kind of the third time I’ve articulated it this way. I build doors and windows. When I teach, I build doors and windows. And my students, everybody’s like, “Wow, you’re a great teacher. You’ve taught me blah blah blah,” and I’m like, “You know, I didn’t do anything. I built some doors and windows, and you decided to look out, and you decided to go forward. And you…” I always say my students do it on their own, because they have to. I mean, we used to think of education as like empty brains, and you’re pouring something into the brains. That’s not how learning works, right? And so, I have come to the conclusion that that’s what I do. I’m a carpenter, and I build these things, and the students love to go through them sometimes. So my superpower is recognizing when students are ready for that light bulb to go off.

Flora: That’s great. That makes you a great teacher. I love that answer from a teacher. That’s great. Wow.

Travis: As I said, the third day I walked out of class, and I found myself saying aloud, “I can’t believe they’re going to pay me for this.” And I was like, right then I knew I’d become a teacher. And I did, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Episode 015 - Survival of the Collaborators

Will Taylor and Strings Attached shows have been a semi-regular part of my post-divorce life, and it was at one of their shows when Flora and I first held hands. We even had our first kiss that night. They are a wonderful part of the Austin live music world, and their skills with every instrument and every style of music, plus their improv and collaborative abilities, make them a joy to watch and to hear.

You can find info about their upcoming shows at StringsAttached.org, and you can find out more about their community service and outreach work at StringsAttachedCares.org. And if you're looking for a curated Spotify or Pandora playlist of local Austin music, and want to help these artists keep generating income from their work, go to WePlayAustinMusic.com.

Thank you so much to Will Taylor for sitting down with me. 

Our theme music is "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. I made our outro music on Soundation. All other music in this episode is from Will Taylor and Strings Attached:

2:06    "Brand New Me"

8:43    "Feel Again"

12:27    "My Name Is Truth"

20:24    "God Only Knows"

24:50    "Overjoyed"

28:38    "Secret of Life"

33:29    "Tigris"

Transcript:

If I think of my past as a child growing up, I enjoyed the process of play with music. Playing. That’s why we’re called players. Musicians are players. We play.

Yeah, I got into music through elementary school, it being presented as an option, and just fell in love with it. But so you’re spending time, like there’s a piano over here right now. I’m looking at that piano, and I remember as a kid, I would just disappear into that world of sounds and try to make things happen just because it was fun, because it was enjoyable, and that whole culture around creating something that didn’t exist before, in the air. So yeah, I started very early, and I can remember just disappearing in the activity so much. Even by myself.

You spend a lot of time by yourself if you’re doing traditional, like let’s say classical music or jazz. A lot of time alone, so you have to get used to being alone, solitary, you know? And then you get rewarded, because you can take that skill and then bring people together, play with others with that skill on a high level, collaborative level. It’s not like painting where you’re just, that’s it, you’re alone. Fell in love with playing with other kids in orchestra and string quartets, and just everything around that, like I said, the whole culture, the conversations, the meeting people that are passionate about that. You just connect, so it’s an activity that can fuel you for a lifetime, easily, if not several lifetimes.

And now I realize it even more than then how much of a practice it is for things that you need to know to just enjoy life and communicate with others. There’s so many lessons built into it. When I say music, I mean the study of music and the activity of doing it with others. So I enjoyed that solitary process and then also the process of working with musicians. It’s a natural high like none other.

I love rehearsing, too. Just getting people together and … Something might sound like crap, and then working through the difficulties. So that’s the other opportunity that music can provide to people that are willing to study it is how to navigate problem solving, how to navigate communicating with people that don’t communicate the way you do, and they are not understanding how you’re trying to explain a musical idea with words. And sometimes it helps to not even talk about it. You just play, and you find your way. And it can bring up a lot of, it can trigger people. It can get people angry, you know, if … So you have this opportunity on how to learn how to communicate non-violently in a way. A lot of musicians don’t learn it. 

And there’s just so much behind the scenes that has nothing to do with playing your instrument to make that music happen, psychologically speaking. Navigating personalities and making people feel treasured or loved or appreciated that then will contribute to the group dynamic. And just by picking the correct words, Joni Mitchell talked about this a lot. She’s like, it’s just this so delicate, paper-thin thing that you’re always aware of when you’re producing an album or you’re working with your band. Just the wrong choice of words, and then it’s ruined, or it’s tainted, and then you’re … there’s no getting back from that.

So that’s one of the things that the music journey can bring. There’s so many things. And then just the act of performing can be a meditation in itself. You are practicing, when you perform, being in the present moment. The more that you can be in the present moment when you’re performing with your musicians, generally the more joyful it will be. And then you’re given the opportunity to just accept things as they are. So a lot of musicians don’t get that. They’re so focused on perfection, and I was this way too for a long time. I would get upset on stage. I would make faces. And it’s only in like the last 4 years, maybe 5 years, I’ve started to try another way, just to smile if a mistake, or something goes wrong. We just smile. I still, I’m not perfect. I still might get triggered. “We rehearsed that! What the heck? What are we doing?”

But it really, music, because you’re in rhythm, it’s different than regular life. When you’re playing in a band, and you start playing, there’s a commitment that happens. You just, “OK. We’re on this. We’re going. And everybody’s on board until this piece is over.” You know? So, what other areas of life are like that? If you’re talking to somebody, you can stop and think about what you’re going to say. But in music, you’ve got to stay in the rhythm. You’ve got to stay in the flow. Not “got to,” but you have the opportunity to really be in the present moment. But most of life is not like that.

It can just be fun, too. It can be just playful. The whole playful aspect of it, when you lose yourself and you forget, you kind of lose your identity. You’re just playing and hearing sounds. So I’ve been playing music for, been a musician since I was 10. So that’s 39 years. And it’s one of the things where, yeah, I can, my thoughts will stop, or they’ll just focus on that one thing, and sometimes I won’t remember maybe a song go by. Sometimes I’ll find I don’t remember what happened during that time. You just sort of disappear. It’s what meditators go for, or they’re hoping that might come up is that your brain activity starts to calm down a little bit.

There’s a magic spot that occurs. So when you’re practicing, you’re really pushing. You’re pushing your comfort zone. You’re continually trying to raise the bar in little incremental, just teeny little bits. And then when you perform, you back off into a comfort zone where then that’s where the magic occurs. You don’t want to be on stage, “I’m going to go for it. Risk!” Like that. It’s just a little bit back behind that. You still might have this playful, like, “Let’s go! Let’s do it!” But it’s … the stuff you really know well, that’s where you’re like watching your hands and you’re, “Wow! What’s going on there?” You know, the magic.

And the songs that you know really well, too, this is the ironic thing, too. I used to be like, when I was a kid, “Ah, I don’t want to play that song again. We’ve played it so many times.” Or like, say, James Brown’s “I Feel Good” or something. But then I notice later on, “Hmm.” With the band. Some of those songs that we’ve played a million times, those are the ones where the kind of the little magical things start happening. There’s familiarity, where everybody’s just sort of watching and observing, and then it moves into that playful zone.

So yeah, it’s a two-step process. Practice, and then perform. The performance zone is where you get to let go, hopefully. And you hopefully find musicians or attract musicians who can do that. And some of them you find that you don’t even have to talk about it, just, that’s what happens. So it’s really cool. And those ones you stay with a long time. I have a few that I’ve played with a long time, and constantly just new people coming in. That’s what makes it, that’s the uncertainty piece again that makes it not boring, that makes it interesting and challenging and juicy is when I find new musicians to collaborate with and try to meet them wherever they are, find their unique gift to the project.

There’s no destination. It’s always, it’s change. You know? That’s the thing. The one thing you can count is change, so it’s never, for me, it’s never an arrival. I used to have this fixation with, if I speak about my music career, “One day, I’ll have enough time to do what I want to do and spend a lot of time being in the creative mode, and I just need to get all my financial stuff in order and all that. I’ll have a platform where I can, one day I’ll get there.”

In our culture, western culture, we’re taught to strive, to push hard, that struggle is necessary to get there, to get to the other side where you can do what you really are here to do, what is your calling. “We’re going to make it happen. We’re going to strive. We’re going to work hard.” That’s what I did for a long time. And I still see some beauty in that, actually. Because you don’t just accidentally write a symphony. But some people might say you do, I don’t know. Some people might. I don’t think Beethoven accidentally wrote a symphony. I don’t think Mozart. I think that tradition of writing music, or like the Sistene Chapel. There’s the tradition of study, of studying with a master, studying, going to school, learning the basics. And it’s not easy. So there’s a struggle there that results in something.

OK, so that’s transformative. Creating something that is left behind. This is another thing that’s been coming up for me, is we humans want to leave stuff behind. We want to leave things or creations. And for me, what has been coming up is at my current age, almost 50, it’s really becoming important. “What do I want to leave behind, and what can I do that is beyond just me?” You’re creating something from nothing. It’s just thought turning into things. And left some things behind. Left some arrangements, left some new works of music that some people might enjoy. 

This relates back to that, again, like one day, if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to relax and just do music. Because I’ve been just working for 30 years to get to that point. Do I want to keep up this push, push kind of, strive, push the envelope? How much of it do I want to keep, and how much of it do I want to relax and enjoy witnessing life? Observing life a little more. Enjoying my relationships. Enjoying getting to know people. So there’s this question mark. Why do I want to spend a lot of time writing music and pushing the envelope at this point in my life right now? It’s kind of there.

And there’s so many different genres and flavors, and you get to … I try to see the worth in all of them. And I used to be, as a kid, I was very opinionated. Classical music was the best thing. Or straight ahead jazz was the best thing. Only the music that had the tradition of study. Folk music, eh. Rock and roll, no. But later on, I definitely learned to appreciate fiddle music and folk music, so it’s great. It’s been a great ride. It still is. It’s just ongoing. It’s an ongoing transformation. It does not let you down. It throws uncertainty at you all the time. So you have an opportunity to take that lesson and then go, “Well, what other areas of my life am I being thrown uncertainty? So I could take it over there, too.” With a relationship, or … It takes you down those roads, if you want to.

Sometimes we just have one or two rehearsals, and then it’s “Boom. Go.” Jazz musicians are used to doing that a lot. Classical musicians as well, but especially jazz musicians. They’re used to playing on the spur of the moment, playing something they just heard off the top of their head, just going for it. So there’s that creative alchemy that occurs when things are on the edge. So I try to get musicians that are comfortable with that space, comfortable being on the edge, comfortable being pushed a little bit.

They also, musicians I have, that I work with, they have to be able to work fast. They have to think on their feet, because stuff just happens. You can’t stop, again. So a lot of times, I’ll be in rehearsal, and a couple of the musicians I work with, have worked with for like 25 years, 20 years, will say stuff, and the new people will, they can’t follow it. They’re like, “What are we talking about?” So it’ll just go like right over their heads. So I’ll say something to them, “Why don’t we go back to that chord, and … ?” So you got to be quick on your feet with the musical language.

There are so many choices now for an audience member, for somebody who is a music lover, that it’s really hard to keep regulars coming. It just requires an immense amount of push, immense amount of marketing, which I resent. I hate it. I’m still doing it because people show up. 

So, 20 years ago, that was easier. I’m making peace with that, but I’m thinking about it all the time. I don’t want to have two jobs. I don’t want to have marketing and music. I want to get back to just music. Look, I don’t think Beethoven was, not that I’m Beethoven or anything, but was dealing with marketing. He probably had somebody that was helping him with that, his benefactor. So I’m trying to at least get toward that, where I have hired help. And I do. I have hired help right now, but it’s still not enough. I’m still having to do most of the marketing myself. That’s what modern … it bothers me all the time. 

If I was just spending five hours of my day writing music, practicing, what would my music look like? But on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, like the Buddhist way of looking at it, it doesn’t matter. Who cares? There’s a million other people. Why should you get to do it? Because I want to! Because I’m here! What makes you … ? So then I go back to, “Well, I have a community, so maybe I do deserve it, because I … or maybe it is worthwhile, because I do have, built a community, and they enjoy it, and so I’m bringing something that’s greater than myself to a community. So then I should do it. I should spend more time on the music, less time on the marketing.” I mean, it’s ridiculous. 

With music, you have two worlds. You have the music business, and then music. And they are completely different things. Completely. Here’s an interesting thing. I’ve actually gotten pretty good at the music business because of necessity. You know the mother of invention thing again. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a club in Austin that want to bring me in as a partner, and I was pretty excited about that because we have an opportunity to build something that you could duplicate and take it to other cities or … and it could become an asset. That’s the first time in my music career that somebody has seen my worth as a businessman and is willing to … So it’s pretty exciting, but again, it’s not what I wanted to create. But it’s fine. I’ll take it. Santana owns shopping malls. That’s one of his … he invests in those strip centers. He’s been doing that for years so that he can do music. Anyway, that’s the new world of modern music making, making it. Willie Nelson, Dale Watson has a couple bars.

I guess I’m struggling now with deciding how I want to, what do I want to do? Again, because I’ve got more time coming up after raising kids for … How long have I been raising kids? 22 years, 23 years. What do I want to create next? But I do feel like, again, looking back, when I’m most happiest is when I’m on a mission that involves a lot more people than just me. If I’m raising money, or if I’m doing a music project that’s a benefit, I have all of a sudden this endless well of energy. So I was listening to this podcast recently, and the guy said, he said, “Nature’s way of punishing humans that are just doing things for themselves is depression or pain, anxiety, or whatever.” If you’re out there working toward a mission, working with a mission that is about something that’s just huger than you, just gigantic, then Nature rewards you with energy and passion and all this. I’ve noticed, just looking back, that that’s true. Some of the projects that I have exhausted myself on are free ones. And as long as there are people there with me, and I’m not alone, have collaborators, the energy just appears. The universe rewards you.

So I’m thinking, “Well, what can I do next musically?” And I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire for that, to bring people together. So one of the things that I’m, one of the many projects, is there’s right now in the world we live in, cover music, taking very popular music that people are familiar with and redoing it is very popular now. It’s a very popular way for artists to get known and make a lot of money. So I thought, “Well, why don’t we harness the power of covers and give all the money to somebody, or give all the money to a good cause?” And I’ve got the relationships with Strings musicians and play with musicians in town, and I can bring all that together. So that’s something I’m really excited about. And that’s something that’s totally within my skill set. So one of the things I’m doing is I want to do that one by one. I want to talk to all my musicians about that mission. Instead of sending out like a blanket email, I want to meet or talk to each one on the phone and see how they resonate with that and build an orchestra of musicians that will do this for good, for no pay. For nothing. And I’ve already got a few that are willing to contribute arrangements and scoring and the recording. I mean, everybody just starts coming together.

There’s nothing that’s completely selfless out there. Right? I mean, we enjoy helping others because it makes us feel good. But if you’re going to feel good, you might as well bring some people along with you, then why not? Then you have more to give. You have a well to give from. If you’re just struggling and in survival mode all the time, then you don’t have anything to, you don’t have any resources to then help others.

But I really feel like this could be the time when people wake up, more and more people wake up. People are waking up in the time of where we are with the current things that are going on in our American climate. In other words, instead of operating from the survival of the fittest mode, which Darwin taught us. What does that mean? Is it everyone for themselves? And everyone making a little pile to then at the end of life they have some pile they can live off of? That was the old model that my parents followed. What’s the new model going to be? Could be helping each other and living off the simplest way that you can live, and really survival of the collaborators. So, that project which I’m talking about, bringing the orchestra together, where I know every musician, and I get to know, talk to them one at a time, that’s an example, people coming together and doing it for just for the love of it and to give it away.

But it’s all about we have only so much time, so I want to just be writing music and then going on walks, spending time with family. But right now, the whole day is split between marketing and barely writing music ever. Barely ever. And I’m actually mastering and mixing an album right now. Because I don’t have the money to pay somebody $100 an hour. I can do it. I know how to do it. A lot of musicians have that skill as well. But it’s in the back of my mind. Maybe it’ll happen. Or do I need to push and make it happen?

But one thing that I’ve found that really works is house concerts. So there’s an endless supply of venues when you connect with people one-on-one and bring their family and friends together for a house concert. So I don’t do much with clubs in Austin. I have one show a month at a club, and that’s it. And then the house concerts are just amazing. There an amazing way to connect with people in an independent environment. We did two this weekend, and I don’t have to worry about the turnout, because the host is doing that. For a house concert, a lot of people ask, “Well, how much space do I need?” Enough for 20 people. 20 folks or more, and it can be inside or outside, either one. We did one last Saturday, it was outside. We had 80 people, right by a pool. I brought a little P.A. system and some lights. It was magical. The sun went down. It was gorgeous. But we require a minimum of 20, and that may go up as the years move on. I’ve got another friend who requires 30. And so you just go out, and you enroll or get your friends excited about it. It can be like a potluck, you can bring food, or you can provide hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and everybody has a great time. We usually have a meet and greet for an hour, and then we do an hour concert, and then people hang out afterwards. And we’re all friends at the end. We’re strangers at the beginning, and at the end of the show, we’re all friends. I encourage you to check that out. You can find out about Strings Attached house concerts, just Google “Strings Attached house concerts,” and it’ll take you to a landing page with information on how to sign up for that. We travel all over the world, not just Austin. Working on one for New York City right now. So it’s a lot of fun. So it’s a great model that seems to replenish itself. It seems sustainable. Whereas the club model in Austin is soul sucking. I have the responsibility. This one club I play at, I fill it up, but let’s say if I was playing two or three of those a week, it’d be ridiculous. There’s no way to sustain that in Austin. It’s done. The way Austin used to be in the ‘70s, it’s gone. It’s gone. There may be other communities in America where it’s like Austin was in the ‘70s, so I encourage musicians to not give up and maybe find places like that.

I use every opportunity, every time I’m performing, to put it out there. I plant the seed. I’ll say it once at every show. I try to, at every show, just as an invitation. If you see a concert like this, if you see us playing in your living room or your backyard, if that’s something that seems exciting to you, come up and say hello to me. And then people will just come right up to me, and then we’ll actually even, sometimes I’ll say, “Let’s pick a date,” right there, and make it happen. And then I have mailing list cards that people fill out so I can follow up. And then that just grows, every show. It just grows and grows and grows, new people, new people, new people, all the time. And you’re just following up, following up. There’s endless number of people.

So I’m excited. There is plenty of opportunity. We’re in a great time. But the big question mark is, how to get back to just doing mainly music. That is my big question mark. I think it’s learning to live as simple as possible. I’m willing to live out of a trailer if I have to. I don’t need a house. And start from there.

Am I good enough? That’s come up. Definitely. A lot. It still comes up. You know, the questionable voices in your head. Absolutely. But then when you see what people that aren’t even close to your level are doing out there, then you get that answer right away. Because I’ve spent so much time doing it. It goes back to my 9 years old, I was playing professionally at age 16 or 17, so I was already good enough to play in the symphony. I got into the Austin Lyric Opera at age 20. So there are jobs available if I want to do that model, be a highly trained musician, I was already doing that. 

I do definitely come from that tradition of people that have teachers. They aren’t just stumbling into this. This is a craft. This is a mastery that takes 10,000 hours. I do struggle with seeing people that don’t follow that. I struggle with it. I have some judgement about it. But there’s a lot, like in this culture of endless shelf space, digital shelf space, anybody can do anything. Throw some words up, it’s a song. Yeah, I struggle with that. I struggle sometimes, but then I feel the feelings and go, “That’s a waste of time. Why do I need to do that? It’s going to happen anyway. So just go back to your thing. Do your thing. Have fun with it. Connect with your people.” 
But gosh, the environment that we’re in is, everybody can do it now, so then we’re flooded. Everybody’s trying to do it. I’m competing with a lawyer who is doing this on the weekends, you know? But it’s all good. Everybody can find their tribe. There’s enough people on the earth.

I feel like I’m on a good path. I feel like I’m really onto something. I really feel fulfilled in the relationships I’m building with musicians, with volunteers, with fans. Because if I get more people involved with me that really see the mission, and then that can reverberate out even more. It’s like an amplifier. I would love to get more people on board that get it and feel a strong love for it, and that I don’t need to explain a lot. I would love to see that, that kind of quick transformation, because it can happen quick. I’m just speaking to the music right now.

I like for things to be exciting, and sometimes I don’t know what to do about boredom. You know, there’s boredom. There’s this drive, and this must’ve been from childhood. You know, drive. Be in an adventure. Life’s an adventure. Yeah, let’s go! Let’s do it! You know? That’s part of being a musician, pushing yourself. But there’s a lot of boredom in life, and being kind of like trapped. It’s like, no matter how hard you try, there’s still an element of life, you’re just trapped. Sometimes you can’t make shit happen. You’re just there. So I’m sitting with that idea. This was how I was feeling before the podcast. I’m excited about the podcast, because see, that’s uncertainty. I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a thrill to it. That’s great. But then, what about after the podcast? You know?

And Stevie Wonder said it, I want to be free. I’m really working on being free. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. But then I’ve seen Stevie Wonder, age 68, 69, or whatever, and he’s touring these big arenas. He’s got a big machine behind him. And I don’t know if that’s free. He’s got people taking him around. Maybe it is. Maybe he’s giving all that money to a good cause. Probably is. What does it look like for him to be free?

I don’t know what a rut is. I’ve known boredom. I’d rather get in the car and go to Barton Creek, or go meet up with some people, meet some people. If there’s any rut, that’s the rut I feel in my life is I want to connect more with people and meet new people, because studying music is such a solitary activity. So at this point in my life, I love connecting with people. I love meeting new people and finding out about them. That’s exciting. So that’s one way that I get out of a rut if I’m in a rut, or I feel bored. But at the same time, I want to challenge myself. “Well, maybe you’re supposed to be sitting here today not doing anything, not driving downtown and trying to meet somebody and hear music. And maybe you need to sit with that for a bit.” I don’t know.

The chase, you know? A lot of it’s a chase. Chasing uncertainty. But isn’t it funny? Because there are some people that are happy to just sit in their chair at the end of the day and watch TV. And that seems like death to me, sitting and watching a TV, or being on a screen for a long period of time. I mean, watching a work of art, that’s great. Movie can be a work of art. But coming back and doing the same thing every day? Ah, no. I don’t want to do that. But yeah. We’ll see. We’ll see what comes next. That’s what’s exciting about life.

Well, I’ve got this project called WePlayAustinMusic.com, which is two playlists I’m curating, and the idea is, what if thousands of businesses, restaurants, bars, coworking spaces, if they were playing Austin music all day long, day after day, and that multiplied across, like I said, thousands of people, thousands of business in Austin, celebrating the diversity of Austin music, and all those plays through Pandora and Spotify generated interest in Austin musicians and music, and generated some income? Wouldn’t that be cool? And it could work that way. Again it’s called, “WePlayAustinMusic.com.” All the information’s there.

And all our shows are at StringsAttached.org. We do house concerts on the weekends. We play once a month at the Townsend. And I encourage you to follow us on Pandora and Spotify. Just look up Will Taylor and Strings Attached. There’s a lot going on.

You can check out the outreach work we do, which is StringsAttachedCares.org, where we go to places around Austin and bring vibrant musicians and get people to sing along and play with us, memory care centers, retirement homes, schools. We get kids that have never seen a violin or a viola to get to see that and touch it firsthand in elementary schools.That’s StringsAttachedCares.org.

Episode 004 - The Quiet Man

Rod Haden

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season! I certainly am. Time is flying and my days are packed. This week we have a conversation with my father, Rudy Haden, a man who has fascinated me ever since I was a wee lad. He's that special kind of quiet that invites others to project onto him whatever they want him to be. Getting him to open up about his past, present, and future, and what he thinks and feels about all 3 was a very special treat for me. I've known the man for 45 years and heard some stories when we talked that I have never heard before. He is my role model for what it means to be a man, a father, and husband, and though we are very different from each other, I couldn't have asked for a better teacher. Thanks, Dad!

Transcript:

I don’t move around very good. I’m in pain quite a bit. It comes and goes. It comes and goes. Some days it’s worse; some days it’s not. It doesn’t seem to depend on how much exercise I get. Some days it’s painful to exercise; sometimes it’s not.

I sit and try to meditate, and it does nothing for me, but when I’m really quiet, or when I’m just totally listening to music, it’s like somebody plants knowledge into my head. I know and I understand things, which I had no idea before. So my meditation is basically checking out and listening to music.

Early on in our marriage, I was in an apprenticeship program, tool and die maker. I had to really concentrate at work. And it’s not easy for me to relate to other people, but I really worked on the journeymen. I would constantly hang around them, and ask them questions, and ask them the best way to do stuff, and I got in as I guess a favorite pupil with about 3 or 4 of them.

So that when I’d come home, I was exhausted, and I would lay down on the floor and play a Beethoven record or something with earphones on, and Robbie would get so pissed off at me because she was making dinner and taking care of the kids, and I was checked out. She didn’t understand that that’s the way I did my meditation.

I’ve been in and out of a lot of churches. My parents were married in a… I can’t think of the religion right now. Reverend Grace. I remember the name of the preacher that married them, and that was there. The guy wore a collar, but he wasn’t a Catholic. But he was deaf. He ministered to the deaf people. He was deaf himself.

He was in the deaf community, and in the basement of his church is where they held all the deaf fraternity meetings.It was based on the Masons. Only it was all deaf men. It was called the Frat. That was what my mom and dad called it. The Frat. We’re going to the Frat. When they went to Frat, the women all sat outside in the waiting room. The kids played on the floor. And when the big meeting was over, they’d throw the doors open, and everybody would go in and have a big social event.

And then my mother’s side of the family was deep into the Reform Christian Church, and I went to a lot of Bible schools and Sunday schools and stuff in that until I was about 3rd or 4th grade. And then I felt like I needed to get hooked up with different churches, so I went to a Methodist church, I went to a holy roller church with a friend, and I went to a couple of Catholic services. As a teen. None of that stuff stuck with me. 

Just because there was so much religion on my mother’s side of the family, I don’t know, I just felt like I was supposed to do it. In order to be accepted by them, I should have a church, but I never could find one. And I came away from it having no respect for organized religion because the main thing they wanted, no matter what it was, they wanted money up front. Seemed like everything was driven by the collection plate. If you were a big donor, you got a lot of attention. If you weren’t, you didn’t get much. And that’s what really turned me off. 

My dad was born on the farm in Kansas, and he was sent to the Kansas State Home for the Deaf and Blind. My dad was born deaf, they think because in the early days when they had the traveling doctors going around the frontier and the farms and stuff, my grandmother evidently had a lot of morning sickness, and the doctor prescribed quinine. Well, later on they found that quinine did stuff to the unborn child. 

My mom came over on the boat from Holland witH her mother. And my mother, we don’t know if she was born that way, or it was some kind of sickness or something that she got in Holland or on the boat or what, but ever since she was a baby, she was deaf. Then my mother was, because she was deaf mute, she was sent off to the school in Colorado Springs.

The strange thing is that the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind insisted that deaf people learn to lip read and speak, and so my mother was pretty good at lip reading and speaking. And they were discouraged from using sign language, so if you compare the deaf people now that use sign language to the old people that use sign language, now it’s all really broad and all over the place, and the older people, their signs are all close in and secretive about it, where now they’re just flamboyant about it. Their signs are all over the place. 

And my dad, the Kansas School for the Deaf and Blind weren’t that way. They were teaching them to do stuff and sign language and be able to be self-sufficient. 

See, in my dad’s side of the family, all the people learned sign language, the hearing and the non-hearing. So I had no idea whether they were hearing, any memory of whether they were hearing or not. On my mom’s side of the family, I had one uncle that learned the deaf sign language, learned the deaf alphabet, and he could do that. He was the only one that made any effort to sign to my mother. All her other brothers and sisters didn’t because she had been sent to school, and they were told that she was to learn to lip read, and so they would talk to her. But the thing of it is, it’s really easy to ignore somebody like that, because all you do is turn away. Turn around, they can’t see your signs. They can’t read your lips. So, whenever there was an argument or something, it was easy just to walk away from that.

My dad’s family had a big get-together once every summer. They came from all over the place. They were Kansas, Nebraska, western Colorado, and they’d have these big, long picnics on the weekend, and there were aunts and uncles and cousins. I didn’t even know all the cousins I had. But I never just seemed to fit in.

He worked in a factory. He started out in a printing shop, a paper cutter. Cutting stuff for the print shop. Then ended up in Shwayder Bros./Samsonite, cutting stuff for the suitcases and plastic tops of card tables and chairs. And my mom worked there on the assembly line putting stuff together. And my Uncle Jim and Aunt Julia also worked in the same factory. Shwayder Bros. hired a lot of, I guess what they called the handicapped people. 

Clarence, he was a rancher. He raised horses, and at one time he had a riding stable up on Lookout Mountain just above Denver. And they had 2 boys, and the youngest one, John, he had a pinto pony named Ruben. And they taught me how to ride. And I could put the bridle on Ruben, lead him over to the fence, they had a rail fence, and I’d climb up the rail fence and get on him. And I was, what, 5 years old.

John would go off hunting. He’d go out, he had a rifle, and he’d go out shooting magpies. I had no idea what magpies were. I was determined I was going to follow him one day and see where he was going, and I’d see these cow patties in various places, you know. So I thought cow patties were magpies, and cousin John shot them. I couldn’t have been 4 or 5 years old. And then he, one time he put his rifle in, we had a, there was a kind of a mud room entrance to the farmhouse, and he left his rifle leaned up against the thing, and he had a thing in the chamber, and I went up there and was messing with it, and I inadvertently pulled the trigger. And it shot a hole in the roof. My Uncle Clarence was really pissed off at John for doing that.

My bed was in this big room where the radio was. There was no TV in those days. It was during the war. World War II. I remember there was a big old tree in the backyard. When I wanted to get away, I’d just climb up in that tree and sit up there all by myself. Could see the whole neighborhood. 

I don’t remember when I realized that there was a hearing world and a deaf world. You never knew. I mean, you could talk to some people, and you had to sign to some people, and some people were talking and signing, and you know, there was no distinguishment. And a lot of the deaf people could read lips. I don’t know when I realized that. I suppose it happened to me some time in high school when, you know how high school gets. How clannish and cliquish it is, and some kids are favored by the teachers, and some aren’t. I realized I was different. During high school, I was really aware of it because people would kind of shy away from me. If I tried to be friendly with somebody, they wouldn’t necessarily because I was a child of dummies. That’s what deaf people were called in those days. They were deaf and dumb. The deaf and dumb part came from deaf and dumb, couldn’t speak. But the dummy part carried on as not being intelligent.

And then in high school, I don’t ever, in junior high or any of those, I don’t ever remember having a parent-teacher conversation. Nobody ever, none of my teachers ever contacted my parents, even when I wouldn’t do my homework or my grades were down. There was nothing. They just passed me along. And in high school, I signed up to take a Spanish class, and I was discouraged. I should take English. I was going to sign up to take some math classes, and I was discouraged. I was to take a general math class where the big thing was to learn how to write a check and keep a bank account and pay your taxes. There was none of that geometry stuff. I didn’t get hooked on that stuff until my senior year in high school. I finally got into an algebra class. 

And I hated high school. I just didn’t fit. Didn’t know how to talk to girls. I had no experience with girls. When friends come over, it was really awkward. If somebody came home with me, it was really, really awkward because of my parents. My parents would try to be friendly with them, but they didn’t know how to deal with it. And so they just dealt with me away from my house.

I really got big into leatherwork because I had an Industrial Arts teacher, Mr. Landon was… he taught Print Shop, Leather Shop, and Woodworking. And I took all those courses. Originally I thought I was going to be an Industrial Arts teacher, then I thought about getting a degree to be able to become a forest ranger, but there was no way. I couldn’t figure out how in the hell I was going to go to college to do that. Although it was a lot easier to go to college in those days than it is now. The costs weren’t so damn much. 

 And I was really into skiing, through the Boy Scouts. Some of us in the neighborhood learned to ski. It was scary in the beginning until I learned to parallel ski. Once I got out of the snowplow thing. I got fairly good at parallel. I never was Olympic quality, but I could do alright. I just loved the freedom. Just felt free. Riding up to the top of the mountain and letting go. And then after I got out of the Navy, I really went into it for a couple of years. In fact, that’s how I met Ruth, my first wife. We met through a friend, and she was really impressed with my skiing. I took her skiing every weekend. She was really into that. And then somehow we ended up getting married.

I really got into skiing, and it was a really good friend that we skied with a lot. And he said he was going to join the Navy. At that time when you turned 18, you were eligible for the draft, so I turned 18 in 1955, and that was right between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, that period. His argument was, “If we join the Navy before we turn 18, we get out on our 21st birthday. Plus the Navy will send us to school.” He laid it out, you know, that we were going to end up getting drafted for 2 years anyway, and there was this opportunity, and I felt, “Yeah, this is a good idea.” It wasn’t all that analytical, it was it felt right. And so I did it. So we joined the Navy. We took tests and everything, and both of us qualified as machinists.

Yeah, I was out in ‘58. I rejoined in ‘61. I was out for 3 years.

I remember going and applying for this one job, and the guy interviewed me and said, “No, you’re too young. You couldn’t do all that.” And then that was the end of the interview. He didn’t believe me. And at the same time, I was going to night school, it was late ‘50s and early ‘60s recession. And you’d work for 3 months, and you’d get laid off. And you’d work for 3 months and get laid off. 

And then when I had such a hard time with all the on again, off again jobs, and I don’t know how I found out the Navy came up with a need for my particular skill. When I got out the first time, I was a second class petty officer, and they… I found out that I could go back in as a second class petty officer, got assigned to a ship in San Diego. We started, originally it was all those old diesel boats, and we worked on those all the time. And then the nuclear subs started to come in. Some of us were cleared to work on the nuclear subs.

So then I was going to make a career out of it. And I just remember getting a call, the piping over the com. And I just remember, “Petty Officer First Class Haden, report to the quarterdeck!” And I thought, “Oh crap! What have I done now?” I go up there, and a guy hands me, you know, he served me with separation papers, and I opened them up and looked at them, and it was, you know, legal language about… I showed the officer, and I said, “I don’t know what to do about this.” And he said, “Well, the first thing you ought to do is get a hold of the chaplain.” 

I knew things weren’t really good with us, but I didn’t think they were that bad. It was a real slap in the face getting served. I was just dumbfounded. “I don’t know what to do now? What?” I had to ask some officer who was probably a lieutenant junior grade or something and was probably 23 years old or something, you know, “What do I do now?”

So I made an appointment with the chaplain and talked to him, and then he got her and me into counseling. And it broke down and went to divorce. It was really traumatic. I had no idea what to do. I was at a loss. And that chaplain gave me options what to do. “Well, you can just not contest it and let her have the kids and stay in the Navy.” And I thought, “Crap, I’ve seen too many of those guys. I ain’t going to be one of them. I want a relationship with my children.” He just gave me all these different options to think about. If it’s something physical, like a computer or a computer program or a piece of machinery or a car or building or something like that, I’m very analytical. But when it comes to feelings and interactions with people, I’m more intuitive. One of my big things that I’ve known over the years is that when a door opens, you look to see whether you want to go through that door or not, whether it feels right or not, and that’s pretty much the way I’ve gone. From being a piecemeal machinist to a maintenance machinist to a tool and die maker to a numerical control programmer to a software developer, and that’s where I was until I retired. But all of those were, a door opened and I went through. There was no analytical thing about it. Did it feel right? Yeah, that felt like it was a good thing to do. 

And then when the divorce happened, I had already... You know, I was committed for another 4 years. And the padre, the chaplain, said, “You know, you could file for custody. If you get custody, you could get an honorable discharge for hardship.” And I just felt like, “Am I good enough to be a father to those kids?” And I just had the feeling, “Yeah, you can do this, but it ain’t going to happen anyway, but what the hell. Go for it.” And I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen. And I thought, “Oh crap. Now what do I do?” At that time, Harold had just gotten a divorce, and he was a single father with 2 kids. He had this big house. And he said, “You could come live with me, and we’ll help each other out.” And so we did. 

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. But at the time, more than resistant to it, I was confused by it, scared of it. What am I going to do now? What am I going to do with the kids that I love so much? I had heard so many terrible things about split families, you know, kids bouncing back and forth and back and forth, loyalties, mothers saying bad things about the father and the father saying bad things about the mother, that at one point I thought that if I ever have to get divorced, then I’ll just let go of the kids, not be in their life. Well that was dumb-headed. I realize that now. Just so many things happened there that I had no clue. I had no idea what I was doing. Just taking it a day at a time.

And then when I got out of the Navy the second time, because I worked on nuclear submarines, I had a top, not a Top Secret, but a Secret clearance, so when I came out, I went to Rocky Flats, which was the big nuclear plant. They made triggers for the atomic bomb. And I applied there, and they said, “Well, it’s probably going to take about 6 months to get your clearance through the FBI.” 3 weeks later, I got a call says, “You’re hired.” 

I was a maintenance machinist. We just went around fixing pumps and stuff, generators. And they opened up an apprenticeship, and I was close to 40 years old. The cutoff date was 40. And I took the test, I went into the interviews and took all the tests and everything they gave us, and there were 2 of us that were picked for the apprenticeship, and I went into that. So I went into the tool and die shop, and that’s where they made all the tooling and everything for the equipment, the nuclear stuff. It was all classified stuff.

Well, when I got… finished my apprenticeship, I became a journeyman, and I worked nights. But during that time, they brought in a milling machine that was numerically controlled, and all those old journeymen, they had no clue about that thing, so I really jumped on that, and I learned all about how to manually program it. And so whenever they wanted to put something on there, why, I was assigned to do it. They had other numerically controlled machines all through the plant. Well, there was an opening there for a programmer, and I applied for it and got it. And in the meantime, during that time I had taken some nighttime college courses on FORTRAN and drafting programs through The University of Colorado.

You know, you get out of marriage and everything, and all you’ve got is work and little kids, and you just figure you need something else. That dating thing was not analytical. That was totally gut. I kept seeing it in the paper and throwing it away, seeing it in the paper and throwing it away. And I read it and thought, “Aw, what the hell. I’ll try it.” And I was ready to give up on that because I had 2 or 3 bad dates. I remember going and walking down the steps into her garden level apartment. And opening that door, and thought, “OK, this is a good one.” And we went out, and the rest is history.

It was such a whirlwind. We were going to get married at 6 months or something. I didn’t think it was right to get married right away. The divorce wouldn’t even be final until March. So then we thought, “OK, in the summer. No, let’s get married in June. How about Spring Break?” And I thought, “My God, this is soon!” But I’ve been following her lead for years. I just know that it sure as hell worked out. Here we are, almost 50 years later. 

When Mom and I met, she was determined that she had found me and that I was the guy, and she was going to marry me, and I had just 2 years ago gotten out of a marriage. I didn’t even know who the hell I was. I had 2 little kids, was living with my brother in his basement, and your Mom was determined we were going to get married, and she was going to have 2 kids. And then we got married, and she was determined she was going to have her own kid. And then she had her own kid, and then she determined that she wanted another one. In those days, it was all the hippie thing, you know. You replenish yourself. So I’d already, I was the husband and a wife, and we had a boy and a girl, so when I got married again, I said, “OK. One more, for Robbie.” But then she was Empty Arm Syndrome or something, and she was determined she was going to have you. And so we had you. Best thing in the world.

After I worked at Rocky Flats for 7 years, I got laid off because they were cutting back, cutting back on nuclear bombs and everything. So they had to cut back on the staff, and they ended up closing Rocky Flats because it was so contaminated. For a long time, I had to go in and be monitored by medical once a year because I was exposed to americium and some other chemicals I don’t remember. I’d go in, and they’d take blood. I was exposed, but I was never contaminated, so I was alright. 

I knew that if I was just a piecemeal machinist, I’d be doing that 3 months on, 3 months off thing for the rest of my life and never getting out of debt. And so I just followed the path. I knew that I had, because the layoff from Rocky Flats, the Bomb Factory, I was back in that mode of working in small shops for short periods of time. And I knew that I was going to get into numerical control. I wanted to. But my goal was the eastern boundary of Colorado, anything west, and the southern boundary of Colorado, anything north. And all I kept getting was this crap in Texas! And they kept offering to bring us down here for a weekend, for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and put us up. And I thought, “Well, what the hell. It’s an opportunity to get out and spend the weekend on somebody else’s dime.” And I came down here, and I was interested. They were interested in me.

Because I worked so hard at it. I spent a lot of time self-educating. The computer has been the best damn thing in my life. Although I got a lot of enjoyment out of my kids. Just enjoying watching you do things and try things and being assistant coach for your soccer team and watching Rik at swim meets. I was a timer and a stroke judge, and I also shot the gun. Starter. It was either sit in that stupid tent, or else go out and participate. Mom just really enjoyed sitting there, and I enjoyed watching how the thing worked and keeping track of Rik’s times.

Yeah. I got involved in Scouts because of you. They fill out those papers, and I’d very carefully fill them out so that I didn’t raise any flags to where they’d want me to do something, and then when you guys went into Webelos, I said, “OK, I can do it for a year,” and the next thing I knew, I was a Scoutmaster. I seemed to get all the misfits. We had some strange kids in our troop. 

One of my favorite memories is that Ford Escort you had, when I taught you how to put new brakes on it. We went through one wheel together, and then I showed you how to do it, and then I said, “OK, you’re on your own now.” And then watched you do it on your own. It was big. 

Ruth was a very outgoing person. Early on, her dad was a senior forest ranger, and it entailed being lots of parties and groups and cocktail parties. And it’s pretty much the same with Mom now, Robbie. I’m just also-ran. I just tag along. We go into groups, and she’s willing to talk to anybody, and I have a hard, hard time. Especially with people I don’t know. I can open up like to you. I can have a conversation with you, or I can have a conversation with Rik. You get into a group of people like Rik’s New Years or Christmas when he has people over, I have a hard time talking to those people. Some of them I can talk to because I know them, but I can’t talk very long. I don’t know what to say. My brain just does not work that way. I’m very very shy. I had a hard time in my jobs too. I just never really fit into those kind of groups.

But the thing of it is, my brother Harold went through the same experience, and he didn’t have any trouble. My cousin Jimmy and my cousin Elaine. Man, Elaine was really into it. I mean, she could talk sign language with the fastest of them. And I couldn’t. I could tell that people automatically slowed down when they talked to me, and I would say, “What?” a lot, and they would spell it out, and then I would understand what the sign was. But deaf people don’t like to spell things out. And so, it was easy for me to check out because if you’re not looking at somebody and reading their signs, you’re not conversing with them. So you’re looking over here. They’re signing, and you’re not paying attention. And it’s a cop out, and I realize it now, 70 years later.

If I had nothing in common with, I’m at a loss. Walk up, you know, Robbie can talk to store clerks and have conversations, and I don’t know what the hell to say other than, “Have a good day.” I don’t know how to deal with those kinds of situations.

My mom was good at it. And my dad too, just talking to people. My dad carried a little pad of paper and a pencil in his shirt pocket, and he had no qualms at whipping that sucker out and writing, talking to people. And my mom would talk to them and try to read their lips. Biggest problem she had was that once people learned that she was reading their lips, they would exaggerate everything, and she couldn’t understand it.

Best thing I ever did was get hooked up with your mom. She’s given me so much love and stability. We still have our rough edges. Mostly it’s me not talking to her enough. That’s because she’s lost all her friends in Dallas. It’s become more important to her to be more interactive with me. I have to cope with it. One of the things is, this iPhone here, I couldn’t live without it. See that? 10:30? This one here. 10:30. It’s my alarm clock. It means “Get up and talk.” When I get up out of bed, it’s time to get up out of bed, because I slept in as long as she will tolerate, and I have to talk. Sometimes I just go on down the hall, saying, “I’m walking, and I’m talking. I’m walking, and I’m talking.” And then we’ll get in a conversation, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. This one here says, “Get up for PT” which is physical therapy, “and talk, and have a happy face.” Because she’s convinced that those girls will work harder with me if I have a happy face with them. The therapists. So that’s how I’m learning to cope with that stuff.

Big thing that we have is that she’s the balloon, and I hold onto her string. I keep her grounded. But every now and then, I have to kind of float with her. To keep me in the world. Not let me crawl in a hole. To give me love.  And it works. It works for us.

In Richardson after the stroke, I was pretty much isolated, just me and Robbie and my therapists, and the therapy ran out. Robbie over the years before that had been talking about someday we need to move to Austin to be with our kids and grandkids, you know. And then when I was in in-house rehab, I just realized that maybe that’s what we ought to do. And then it was a whirlwind.

I had nothing more there. She had all her friends and her contacts and her woo woo stuff was all up in that whole area up there. When we came down here, she had a, she’s still having a rough time, but she had a really rough time in the beginning, mostly with the driving thing. Over the years, I’ve had to map things out for her. And I still do that. I map out where she wants to go. I’m really proud of her, because she’s got to where she’s really moving around a lot.

Big events in my week are physical therapy, and now that’s about to stop and I have to do it on my own. I have to force myself to do it. It’s too easy to blow off. Mom will say, “Let’s go to lunch,” and I blow the rest of the afternoon off, which means I don’t do the exercises I should. I’ve got to do it, got to get myself on a regimen. You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it?” With me it’s really true. If I don’t do it, I’ll lose it. My walking is worse than it was 6 months ago. Although I try. I just don’t seem to be able to get the rhythm good enough, fast enough. And Robbie’s really patient with me. She just walks along at a slow crawl, either behind me or by my side.

She does a lot for me. She’s walking a narrow line about doing stuff for me and not doing stuff for me. She has to decide what I really need her to do and what I can do on my own. I try to do my own laundry, but she’s pretty much grabbed a hold of that. When she hears me kicking the bucket down the hall, she runs out and grabs it and does it, but she leaves the shirts and pants for me to hang up, which I can do. I can fold the other stuff, too, but she has a need to do something. So it’s a fine line on what she wants to do and what she wants me to do.

I’ve had a couple of times since I stroked. I thought my family would be better off without me, but then I realized that’s not true. Robbie would not be better off without me, even though she has to do so much of the physical part of it. I still keep track of the finances and when things need to be paid, the mortgage and utilities, and I give her moral support. I keep reminding her that she needs friends, and she needs to make them. She’s found a couple of lady friends that she really likes that she has coffee with on Wednesdays but I really wish she could find a clan. I just have to keep reminding her that she needs to look and not give up on it. So I can’t give up. I still got to hold that string.

The biggest thing is that she got all her talking and communication with all those people she had up north, and now she depends on me to do it, and it’s difficult for me. I try hard to do it, but it doesn’t satisfy her needs. People project onto me that I’m stuck up and antisocial. It’s not true. I just don’t know how to be social. It sounds like a cop out, you don’t know how. Of course you should know how. I read all kinds of books on how to do it. I can’t do it.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint things. It’s just a path. Some of it’s rocky and some of it’s grassy and easy going, and some of it’s a struggle to climb up, but I’m just on this path. Hadens are resilient. I don’t know whether it’s in genes or whatever the hell it is. It’s there. My next goal is make it to 85. Try to talk to my wife whenever I can. Enjoy my kids and grandchildren. I’m satisfied with my life.

 I don’t know how you’ll make sense out of any of that.