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I Went To School To Talk About My Feelings

photo credit : berkshire eagle

I still feel cold when I look at this building. I feel bone chilling cold, heartbreaking sadness, and a strange twinge of unbridled optimism. I remember countless nights of walking around that lawn singing along with my headphones as loud as possible, not another human being in sight. I remember standing at the top of the hill and hearing James Taylor playing at an amphitheater down the street.  I remember hearing the Bruce Springsteen "Unplugged" CD for the first time while washing dishes. On the top floor I remember hearing Matthew Sweet's "Altered Beast" for the first time. I remember listening to "Zooropa" on cassette. I remember having a Warhol "Elvis" silkscreen stuck to the wall above my bed with fun-tak.

I remember people. I remember things they said.

I remember spending Christmas in the lobby with a Christmas tree and other people.

I remember watching Bill Clinton get inaugurated on one of those awful Sony projection TV sets where the screen was mounted to those two black metal stands and was curved and reflective.

I remember sitting in the office to the left of the entrance, opening an envelope from Columbia House, and listening to Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "Sons Of Soul" on my $99 Discman from the Service Merchandise at the Berkshire Mall.

I remember having a case logic CD wallet with the entire Bowie catalog on Rykodisc in it.

I remember sitting in a therapist's office and talking for an hour about how I couldn't believe there was a new R.E.M. album that had been out for weeks that I was not allowed to listen to and therefore I hadn't heard it.

I remember years later sitting in the Village East Cinema with my ex wife watching Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and realizing that I was watching a fictionalized version of my life on the screen.

The other night I was looking for an old photo of myself and in the photo album I found some scraps of paper. Here was my report card from 9th grade. I was failing everything (except Computer Science). "How the hell could I have gotten a D in Music Survey?" I wondered. It's been 28 years and I can still tell you that all the music teacher did was try to get us to listen to Earth, Wind, and Fire. It's the only subject I should have had straight A's in with my eyes closed.

I like to leave myself clues for later in life even if (or maybe especially if) I don't know what they mean at the time. Over the years this has proved to be a good strategy for me in understanding myself and my life.

I knew that at this point in my life (I was barely 15 at the time of this report card) I had been extremely depressed. Lately I've seen so many parallels between my life now and my life at that time. The feelings of isolation, failure, rejection, imprisonment, neediness, have all been quite prevalent in the last year.

My accomplishments this year: The WFMU Record Fair, the fringe festival show, the EDM album, and probably some other stuff have felt like important resume builders and check-it-off-the-list types of accomplishments but they were all soul crushing and didn't make me happy the way I thought they would.

They were, in a way, like the report card. Stuff I should have just been able to have accomplished easily but ended up being D's and F's. Also what the fuck is the difference between a D and a D-?

It was this report card combined with constantly being in trouble that ended me up one way or another at the DeSisto School in Stockbridge, MA. At age 15 I was virtually imprisoned and put through the standard trappings of a cult. Sleep depravation, hard labor, internal terminology invented to keep the outside world away, the front facing appearance of normalcy, punishment for not snitching, and literally every other trapping of a cult you have ever read about.

Here we have the token stock photo of the charismatic leader. His resume padded to the gills with bullshit that could have only survived before the internet existed. Various articles have pointed to the fact that all of his credentials were outright lies, in some cases making up names of universities he had attended which never existed.

He was a regular guest on talk shows and used his book as his main credential to prove that he wasn't a fraud.

I've heard all kinds of stories about him over the years but mine is a little different. Even at 15 I could see where he'd stolen a lot of his routines from. He would give these impassioned monologues in front of the school when parents or donors would be visiting. They would praise him as a revolutionary genius who was saving the world or whatever. We would sit at his kitchen table a day later and I would say things like "You stole (that bit) from this show, and (that bit) from that film. The part when you (did thing) would have worked better if you had (done some other thing)."

I don't think anyone had ever spoken to him like that, let alone a fifteen year old.

He would be remarkably candid with me about certain aspects of the operation as a result. I think he was worried the whole house of cards would come falling down one day (and it mostly did), and needed someone other than his beard wife to bounce ideas off of. He was a con artist for sure, in his day mildly successful, and now barely remembered except by the victims (like myself) whose lives he bought and sold for money.

Later in life I would learn that most of his "brilliant methods" were blatantly plagiarized from new age self-help techniques popularized by groups like EST and Neurolinguistic Programming.

I was lucky. I had free rein of the place. While there were literally children being chained to radiators I was allowed to do stuff like go to the movies, concerts, and occasionally Taco Bell under the guise of "arts programs" that were organized as part of the bullshit educational component of the school.

Other students were often amazed at what I was able to pull off and never understood how or why. It was simply that my no-nonsense personality, unique insight, and understanding of the performing arts literally saved me from what could have been much worse.

I'm not saying my time there was good. One of my roommates was a pedophile that had molested his younger sister and had photos of babies taped to the wall next to his bed. He later went on to get a job at Walt Disney World and unsurprisingly got arrested for repeating the same sort of behavior. Two of my roommates had untreated and extremely out of control obsessive compulsive disorder. I remember one of them thought there was a string attached to him and if anything caused the imaginary string to tangle he would scream in excruciating pain for long periods of time. 

I did not see Nirvana live, I did not go to the prom, I did not do anything from the ages of 15-17 except deal with crazy people twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. I suppose in the same way that I tell you that I do nothing now but sleep and look at Facebook it's not entirely true. At 16 I performed on stage at Jacob's Pillow. I was in a choir that performed at a church in Stockbridge once. I took voice lessons for the first time. I took ballet for a couple of months. There were some very strange but necessary growing pains and notches under the belt type of accomplishments that I'm glad I got out of the way at such a young age. I was in the school rock band for a hot second. I wrote the song that everyone loved when they played it. They kicked me out and then took credit for the song. All that kind of stuff.

But when I look back and think about what I remember the most it was the grueling 3+ hours of group therapy every single day. In some cases 12+ hours a day.

Some back of the envelope math tells me that by the time I was 18 I had sat through over 1800 hours of group therapy. Think about that for a second. I don't care how messed up your life is. At 18 you haven't been through enough of anything to require 1800 hours of group therapy.

The group therapy of course served as a way for the school to kill our time without having to pay for additional resources. Michael's schtick in interviews was that he had devised this system to teach us how to learn to talk about our feelings. Many of the students had been drug or alcohol addicts and on top of the 3+ hours of group therapy daily also went to twelve step meetings off-campus in the Berkshires. Often times they would end up at places like Kripalu, which is why to this day when someone I know is doing an event at Kripalu I roll my eyes.

I remember other students taunting me that I knew nothing about music because I couldn't play an instrument. When I look at those students today and many of the surrounding characters in that whole universe I realize that I was dealing with the children of provincial people who had money and a lack of understanding as to how the system worked. Ironically my parents are kind of like that in a way. They like to live in remote areas and throw money at problems. There's no question that the combination of these elements made me even more determined to live in urban environments and know as much about music as I possibly could.

I've never become a drug addict or alcoholic. I rarely drink and I never touch drugs. Also, I'm extremely talented at talking about my feelings. This hasn't really set me up for an easy adult life, most people are not only terrified of talking about their own feelings but scared of anyone who does talk about their own so easily and openly. It's a huge part of why I struggle to make friends. When I'm aware of it I just shrug and think "but this is what they trained me to do."

I mean I'd much rather be the way I am than be dependent on drugs or alcohol, but I'm clearly in the minority.

I also think it's why the last three therapists have said to me "I can't help you", because I've already gone through as much therapy as any one human being could ever possibly need. I understand myself, I understand my circumstances, it's just that they're never going to change. I'm always going to be in the minority. I'm always struggling to get the payoff that other people in my situation get which is some kind of career out of the creativity that comes from all of the pain and art school that I've been through. So far it's been elusive. None of this has been for a lack of effort. I'm proud of my credentials and that I keep trying and failing. I'd just like to have a win to hold on to already. People say I'm too hard on myself and that's because I have to be. Nobody else is going to be. When others take my failures and call them accomplishments it feels like the person I'm talking to just doesn't understand the level of success that I require to feel OK. They haven't walked in my shoes and I haven't walked in theirs.

There are a lot of successful artists who I see as failures. Other people don't always understand that.

I have my own standards and I have to stick by them for my own survival.

I was taught to express my feelings. This is how I've been feeling lately.


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