How music changed my life, Part 3: Climbing up

When you are down, negative, depressed, burned out, or even just tired from everyday routine, having some form of creative outlet is a wonderful thing. It doesn't matter *what* you do – it can be writing or painting or really anything you like – but it does matter that you do something. For me, that is largely music.
This is a story of how, over the first 38 years of my life, I grew out of touch with myself and my values, got into a depression, and almost ruined my family. Reconnecting to music was a key element to understand where I was at, in life.
This post is the third in a series. If you have not read the first two parts, please do, starting at the link below:

How music changed my life, Part 1: Falling down

How music changed my life, Part 2: Recognizing and acknowledging the issue

Continuing the story from where we left it in the second post, I had come to the realization that I had to change track. My soul needed that. My family needed me to be my better self. The world needed me to be my better self. We all need to be, if we want to do something about the planet, and our health. Eat organic, eat more veggies, plant trees, make love, talk about your emotions, make music, play with your children.

My wife also wrote a very compassionate post about my depression, our relationship, and how she helped me tackle it. I invite you to read it as well, before I continue on rambling just about music…

My partner's depression was a growth opportunity for our family

Making guitars made me remember and gave me courage to say again that sometimes old versions work just as well. A piece of wood with strings is a piece of wood with strings, and it still plays.

Real human relationships need to be nurtured and shared time is what makes you happy, not all the stuff you fill your house with or the apps you have on your phone, or how many 'likes' or 'friends' you have on Facebook.
You don't need the fake plastic guitar with colored buttons in the same shape of the one a certain famous singer is using… the one you use while watching yourself in the game console mirror and pretend you are that chosen rock idol, while you live in fear you have not made it, unlike he did. He or she (your idol) is just a guy or girl like you and me. He might have something wonderful to sing and to say, but so do you!
As a society, we have largely become just consumers of music, not producers. Besides the very few who actually become rock stars, I know a lot of people who used to have bands but dropped them as they became 'mature' and went to grey workplaces that dimmed their light. We listen to selected famous singers but we don't play as much anymore. And a lot of those who play always try to replicate what those idols do, buying the same iconic instruments from the same three large corporations which are doing very little innovation and just selling large volumes.

We need to compose, CREATE original music. Simple music – doesn't have to be complex – but we need to be in touch with our creative side. We are CREATORS. We need that sparkle. That light. It is only dimmed – it never really dies, but it will kill you if you don't let it shine – but you need to have courage to dig really deep and go beyond your fears to find it back.

And it will hurt, but then it will liberate you.

You need to step in your power and BE your idol. Be the example you want to see in the world, not just blindly follow the largely unquestioned (but very questionable) way of life that someone else has chosen for you.

While wars are being perpetrated around who owns the oil, 'charitable' donations are being used to fuel even more the pharmaceuticals, our food is being genetically modified, Mother Earth is not being respected and invasive technologies are turning us into cyborgs… we need to be the change we want to see. If we don't like the way the world is going, we need to change it. And changing it means standing up for our values and not buying, supporting or producing 'progress' we don't believe in. We don’t have to always compromise.

Building guitars, during meditative hours of sandpaper work, made me go thru all this.

And I decided I was tired of complying, that I needed to stand up for my values. To be a better husband, a better father, a better citizen of this world, a better man. It was time to re-prioritize my life and what I was contributing to.

My wife had helped me, with her patience and her talks, to figure things out, but by now she was sick, I was in an un-diagnosed (and un-noticed at work), but real, depression and I still had a ton of stuff in flight for the project I was working on…

The first thing to reduce our level of fear and start moving forward was moving back to Europe, where we could have extended family around us to help, to at least help relieve the pressure on my wife, to start with. With miraculous help I managed to maintain my job even from abroad, so we had some time to buy a house and settle.
In the Netherlands, the family started coming back to life. Especially my wife and the kids started slowly getting rid of their fear (see article about my daughter's experience in American public school linked from the first post in this series). We could send the kids to a Waldorf school, now, which in the Netherlands is affordable to all, not just by very rich people, and they started coming down from their stress too. They reconnected with their manual abilities and bodies. They finally had cousins and new friends and grandparents close by. They started having the freedom to wander around the neighborhood on their own without social services threatening to take them away. My son started talking to me again and we did things together. He stopped being obsessed with Darth Vader.
Things did look better, and I started making some time for my kids and my family, i.e. now I could bring the kids to school – and talk to them – and then do grocery shopping in the morning, because I had no office to go to at standard 'office times'. My in law's also could give some attention to the kids – we were not alone anymore! – and gradually my wife got a little better with her tummy problems, she got some color back, she finally had some mental space and started studying.

Part of my days were 'free' because my job position was still with the American team. This also meant that I had to still be online and at work during part of my evenings and do nightly conference calls to match the timezone of my coworkers, or I would not get anything done.

Good luck sleeping after having been in a 'morning' status meeting at 10pm. My insomnia – and nightmares – became worse, and more frequent.

So, while I was starting to take some time to be a better dad and husband, I was still really in need of some time to heal myself too, and to completely detach from what I knew was the core issue: I had never felt aligned with 'scientific' and 'innovation' values pushed by the industry. I was still compromising with them. I was still doing 'poker face' with the world, to get my salary. We had changed country, but I was still not following my heart.

One of my recurring nightmares was that of my daughter having been replaced by a robot, 'for you cannot stop progress'. I kept waking up in cold sweat and with a cramped tummy. Another particularly vivid one was about Bill Gates telling me I didn't stand a chance on my own, that I could not go away since he owned me, and he was closing with 'where the heck did I think I would be going?' before I woke up feeling awful. Bill, don't take it personal, please – it's just a dream after all, and I don't control those. In my psyche, you were a symbol of the technocratic culture and this world that you helped creating, which has never felt my own, but which I infiltrated for a few years while wearing a mask, because that's what everybody else was doing with their lives – or so it seemed to me at the time – and because I really liked to understand how machines and systems work, so that I could control them, and not be controlled by them. It was a fear-based choice, and those are never good. Don't worry – the mistake was mine to join it in the first place but, like every mistake, it provided great learning. So, thanks for all that I have learned in that industry.
It's noteworthy to point out that, somehow, the mask I was wearing – or rather the restlessness that wearing it caused me! – got confused with 'drive' by that culture, and made me 'successful'.

Anyway, it was time for me to cut that cord. And to be done with fear.

So, I finished off all the last pieces of work I had agreed/promised to finish – because I like to maintain my words – but after that I was really done with 'innovating'.
By now we were in a relatively safe harbor, we had drastically scaled back our needs and monthly budget and had some savings set aside – it was time to really unplug, own my shit, change path and fix myself and my family emotionally and completely. So, in October 2015 I finally quit the corporation

Three quarters of 2015, my IT career and various ramblings

Now I was free to start going after my dreams and reinvent a career (or two) for myself that would be compatible with my values.

Now I was without a job but with some savings. A great weight had finally dropped off my chest, I had a good roof on my head, and plenty of time.

A week later, my sister in law stumbled across the FabLab in Alkmaar, which just at that time had set up a workshop on 'cigar box guitars'. I had never heard of them before, but once I saw what it was about, I got completely jazzed! It was *exactly* the type of idea I was searching for: not 'full blown' guitars, but simpler ones, that can be built inexpensively using recycled materials such as old cookie tins, cigar boxes, wine boxes, broom sticks, old screws, etc… and with this 'recycling' theme in mind I launched Plank Guitars.

With Plank, I therefore make custom, one of a kind guitars that are also pieces of art, for musicians who want to play blues, rock or other kinds of music (even techno!) on very special and unique instruments. Besides, my guitars have zero environmental impact for their production (excluding that I use some electricity for my power tools), since I reuse old 'junk' I collect at the local thrift stores such as cookie tins, cigar box guitars, pieces of old hardwood floors, etc.

I don't claim to be an 'expert' luthier (just like I never claimed to be an engineer in IT!) – I am still learning a lot, in fact I am also going to school at the Dutch School of Guitar making by Frank de Haan to improve my skills, and I am learning some cool tricks there!

While at the school more complex guitars are made, some of the instruments I make on my own are left intentionally extremely simple and 'down to basics' so that they can be played by kids or people who have never played any instrument before. For example some have three strings and a diatonic fret board (for the un-initiated, it means you can only play 'full' notes A-B-C-D-E-F-G but not sharps or flats – it's like a piano without black keys) which makes it really difficult to play 'bad' notes. See the 'Gnome's Dulcimer cookie tin guitar' here as an example

Gnome’s Dulcimer cookie tin guitar

There is a freshness and a power in making something simple – not 'over the top' – which actually gives joy to others!

A charismatic – but modest – singer, Seasick Steve, also uses very simple and beaten up instruments in his songs, and I love a quote from his song 'Diddley bow' (which is the name of the simplest ever 1-string instrument used to play it) that says it all:

"With only one string you can't go wrong. Go and make yourself a song." – Seasick Steve

That's the spirit: just sing and don't worry. Don't try to be perfect, just be yourself and enjoy!
Other famous people said that too

"Express yourself don't repress yourself" – Madonna

And there I got that my mission and differentiator was not about selling guitars by the pound and build the next cool label with a big factory, but make simple artifacts that give joy to people.

Earlier this year, with my wife, we also launched the Sanctuary of Joy, a holistic healing organization. We aim to help people to (re)discover who they really are: discover their passions, be true to themselves, improve their relationships and life in flow and abundance.

Sanctuary of Joy is operational

At the Sanctuary we do energy healing, we read Tarot and Oracle cards, and we counsel couples and individuals about their lives, their relationships, their work and their health. Our emphatic and intuitive abilities and our life experiences taught us to see the world – and people – from a unique perspective: over the years we traveled and studied with Indian and Western spiritual teachers; we lived in three different countries while raising our 3 children; we dealt with autoimmune diseases, miscarriages, burnouts, discrimination, bullying, corporate management jobs, and more. We gained deep understanding of cultural patterns and how they can block us from finding our true selves, and how communicating from a place of Love is an art that can be learned.

We think that music fits wonderfully into this picture, therefore we are going to cross-over the Plank Guitars brand and theme with the activities of Sanctuary of Joy, where we think that other people dealing with stress, depression, and all those people who 'locked up' in their emotions – like I had done – can also benefit from using music as a way to express themselves.

Practically this means that we offer:

To give you some Joy right now, in the photo below you can see an extremely simple instrument that my 6 years old daughter was able to build all by herself with a shoebox and some elastics:

Sara with her shoebox guitar

Find out more about our activities under 'Music Healing' at the Sanctuary of Joy's website

Music Healing

We are at the end of the tale. I described how music, and a number of other tools such as Tarot and Oracle cards for self-analysis (We are currently writing a book on this topic – stay tuned), with the help of my wife by my side and copious blessings from above, helped me get in touch with my real locked up self, and start a new journey. I hope the reading was informative and maybe helpful to some people who might be navigating similar times of fear and doubt like those that I went thru, or maybe now they are awakening as well.

Music is not the only thing that I do. I am quite busy with the counseling work of the Sanctuary, I am writing, I spend time with my kids, I cook. I take pictures. I paint. I occasionally do some IT to help small shops or individuals get visible, but not the big scale stuff. As someone else already wrote, I make guitars, but I am not a "guitar maker".

We are all composite people, and the jobs we do to make a living are just things we do, they don't define who we are. We are more that those.

And you don't need a lot of 'things' to be happy either, you just need to have enough, and bring out your light into the world.

All good things are wild and free - Henry David Thoreau
[Image previously shared on Sanctuary of Joy's Facebook page]

How music changed my life, Part 2: Recognizing and acknowledging the issue

When you are down, negative, depressed, burned out, or even just tired from everyday routine, having some form of creative outlet is a wonderful thing. It doesn't matter *what* you do – it can be writing or painting or really anything you like – but it does matter that you do something. For me, that is largely music.

This is a story of how, over the first 38 years of my life, I grew out of touch with myself and my values, got into a depression, and almost ruined my family. Reconnecting to music was a key element to understand where I was at, in life.

This post is the second in a series. If you have not read the first part, please do

How music changed my life, Part 1: Falling down

This installment continues the story where the previous one left it, and it talks about how I finally awoke to the fact that I had an issue.

A third post will talk about how I actually healed from it. Stay tuned!

One thing was clear: I needed music more than I had ever done before. This was clear to my wife, if not to myself, and she let me take that time to play music and later, as I'll describe in the paragraphs below, to build instruments. She knew my music time was time that was allowing me to deal and digest a bit the overload of information and fear in my head. I needed that outlet. If I had not healed myself first from my addiction (which was work), I could not have time and space for her and my kids. If I was not happy and stable myself first, how could I make them happy?

I didn't understand any of this at the time – I just thought it was cool that she was not demanding or blaming me (while I was an asshole most of the times) and she let me play music, something I had really missed, something that had always let me send out a new 'message in a bottle' with each new song. In the meantime she was suffering and she was getting sick while I 'lived the dream' but I was grumpy and snappy and really not pleasant to be around. I also started pushing her away (albeit I always loved her): I now understand that I felt scared of the person I had become, and I was trying in some twisted way to 'protect' her and 'punish' myself, like I didn't deserve to be happy.

Anyhow, just composing and recording my songs still involved a computer (not directly 'related' to work… but my eyes were sore of looking at a screen and just composing at the computer made the experience still too 'mental' and less 'emotional'); I needed something that kept me away from computers, to find back my humanity, to ground me. Something more 'down to basics'.

Important turns of events often come unexpected, and so the universe blessed me in this casual way: we were at a local thrift store, and my wife (she truly is my muse!) spots an electric guitar, and she points it out to me: "is it any good?"
This guitar looked like it had previously been a not-over-the-top-but-decent quality instrument before it was raped (= really badly relic'd – basically vandalized) by its previous owner.
I wasn't sure, but I kind of saw potential… also my wife encouraged me to try and repair it/restore it, particularly if I was able to bring it home for very cheap from the thrift store and so I got it and I started taking it apart and restoring it. I already wrote a post back then about I then restored this guitar completely and have then used it in various songs.

Restoring an Electric Guitar

This experience was enlightening: never before I had thought I could do anything to the instrument besides playing it or changing its strings and tuning it! Maybe it was the result of my piano education too – an instrument that only very skilled and specialized experts can tune, to start with – but I had never thought about taking apart and modify an instrument and yes, it took me 37 years to get this epiphany!
Then memory came back: I had actually wanted to build one when I was in my early teens, but I didn't know how, and there was no internet available to learn luthiery as easily as today. But these are just pieces of wood, some screws, some springs… as a 14 year old I didn't know how, but today, with the amount of information available, learning just about anything is easier than ever. This meant I could build my own guitar from scratch!
Even if most people would see 'guitar building' as a profession, it is really a craft, like most other skills, and you can learn any number of them. We are not our jobs, we are not the labels society puts on us, we are not our diploma's. We do learn skills during this lifetime, and the more the better, as you never know what they'll be useful for.
How is woodworking different than writing computer programs? I also did not have an education in IT or engineering, and yet I was very successful in IT! I know I can learn just about anything I set my head onto (and here's a tip: so can you!), so I I started building a guitar from almost 'scratch' (I bought the neck already made that first time, but built the guitar body from a plank of wood that my landlord had left lying around). I blogged about it here

DYI Telecaster (Pinecaster) Project

This guitar became one of my favorites, and I regularly use it for my songs, and in dark moments of that period I allowed my subconscious to let out in lyrics and sounds what it was trying to tell me but I could not see, clouded as I was.
When I go and hear back what I wrote and sang – not immediately, but at times many years later – I somehow get handed the key to my own words, of my past self, and I am able to recognize and analyze what was going on in my head at the time, from a calmer, detached position, and to rewrite the emotions associated with those periods, and heal my emotional scars. It is no different than keeping a diary, if you wish.

If you hear 'I walked all this road', which I wrote in the spring of 2014, the text was pretty clear: my subconscious (which I was letting speak thru channeling my emotions into words and music) was telling me that what I had done until then (salaried IT job, career, trying to conform and live the dream) really wasn't what was good for me any longer. I had to evolve, to be me myself – my real self – once more. I wrote and sang that pretty clearly…

I walked all this road

I came till here
walked all this road
only to find
I've got to evolve

what I have been
does not define
what I will be
I have yet to find

a simplistic
view of life
is not what really
should devise

what people do
onto this world
is only their business
don't you know?

I came till here
walked all this road
only to find
I've got to evolve

I came till here
walked all this road
only to be
myself once more

I've got to evolve
to be myself once more

I came till here
walked all this road
only to find
I've got to evolve

what I have been
does not define
what I will be
I have yet to find

a simplistic
view of life
is not what really
should devise

what people do
onto this world
is only their business
don't you know?

You cannot love
if you don't trust
it's almost spring
let's hope it lasts

I am never done
learning new things
it is what gives
my life its swing

I came till here
walked all this road
only to find
I've got to evolve

I came till here
walked all this road
only to be
myself once more

I've got to evolve
to be myself once more

I could not even clearly understand what was provoking the sense of dissatisfaction that I was feeling at the time, but I am pretty sure the lyrics capture it, and now that I am healed I am able to see it: I was done with the 'simplistic' view of life that society wants us to walk, and I had to come all the way to the corporate job in America to figure it out. It wasn't practical to wear a mask all those years, and that by now I was longing to be myself once more.
But back then, I only let the song out, but I didn't have the courage to do anything to change the situation because I was rationally in denial that I even had an issue, to start with. But flushing it down helped keeping it present, track it down, give a signal to the universe while my conscious mind (influenced by society) was trying to always belittle that feeling and suppress it…

Daniele Muscetta playing acoustic guitar

Crafting and 'making' things is a wonderful, practical, down-to-earth way to meditate. Making a guitar with my hands from a piece of wood got me in touch with my emotions, gave me the thinking space (distracted me from obsessing over work commitments, deliverable, dates, disagreements, toxic people's influence, the next email, etc…), and allowed me to re-evaluate what type of system and society I was contributing to.
Am I really a tech enthusiast? Actually, I have never been.
I went into IT just as a way to trade my skills for money: I 'get' how machines work, corporations need those – but I like neither machines nor corporations. My mind was for rent, but my heart has always been elsewhere.

Looking at how guitars are made, and that I was able to build one with reclaimed, cheap materials, without giving the major guitar makers a ton of money for equivalent – or lesser – products, made me see again what I was contributing to with my job, what type of society did I want to create for my kids?
Did I want them to grow up by video games, personal assistants and on-demand videos (next to a fascist school system that represses them and sedates their spirit and treats them more like machines or ants than humans) while I work my health away and take decisions like a machine myself to introduce more of that type of shiny, throw-away, 'you always need the latest' things in the world?

The answer was no, of course.

I was betraying my real self, my values. Under the 'shiny armor' of 'I am providing', I was closing myself to my wife and to my kids – not more money, they needed, but my time and human presence and the example of standing for my own values and owning my shit (as James Greenshields would say it): I was negating them my time, my understanding, my compassion and my better self.

While IT has created the ability for people like you and me to come together in digital worlds and share information, IT has also incredibly invaded our lives. Internet of things, wearables, medical implants, self-driving cars… it is getting creepy. The solution to the issues that IT has raised in society cannot be found in IT itself – we can't turn off a fire with more fire, we can't drain a lake with more water, and we can't fix the issues with society that were created by too much screen time and uninterrupted internet access by adding even more screen time and connectedness!
We need to go at a different level that does not involve being plugged all the times, always fearful of losing what we have accumulated, working all the times, often supporting the wrong energies. We need to rediscover our wholeness as humans. Our emotions. We need to go back to live at a speed that is not necessarily 'primitive' or throwing the world back into the middle ages, but one that allows ourselves to discover the real beauty of each new moment. As people and as a society, we need to slow down. We need to get back in touch with our basic and magical human creative nature. We need to think of the environment. Reconnect with nature. We need to do stuff that fills us and the world with Joy. We cannot afford to die not having really lived for what we believe in. What will our descendants think of what we did in this lifetime? What mark do we want to leave on this world? We should not only half-live, or survive, for fear of stepping out of what everybody else does, out of the known path, out of the comfort zone which we created in our head (but is not really 'comfortable' as we think it is…).

I had enough of the speed and the methods of industrial production, of which IT is the ultimate example. After all, I had got into that just to get economic independence, but I was not married to a company nor to the market in which it operates. Working in IT was a compromise from the very beginning and I had tried to ignore that and forget it, stored it away somewhere where it was hurting me. I could not imagine reinventing myself and doing something different which better aligned with my view of the world I want – which I craved deep inside – for the fear of losing what I had built so far. And so I was working extra hard, to the point of getting panic attacks if we were in the middle of the forest and I didn't have internet connection to check work email. Can you call this addiction a 'success'?

And then it became clear, talking to my wife: the image I was presenting to society/work and who my soul wanted to be had just grown more and more separate over time, together with the responsibilities and how much I became involved in strategic decisions, as opposed to being just a support guy.
Since I was not feeling aligned to the values of the technocratic society, I was working myself to death as a sort of penitence, unconsciously try to redeem my 'sin' of working towards the wrong, fearful, dark, medical scientific future I don't like. Similarly, I was always overly cautious with money and not spending much for my own enjoyment, even if I could afford it.

Basically, compromising my values I had grown out of sync with who I really am, and that – very slowly, over 18 years – threw me in a depression that fed my own insecurity and sense of not deserving enough.

"I didn't even know that I was trapped in the dream that had been envisioned for me by my culture, religion and education" – Alberto Villoldo, 'The Four Insights'

I had to slow down completely and for good. I needed to change job and life. My soul needed that. My family needed me to be my better self. The world needs me – and everyone else – to be their better selves, if we want to do something about the planet, and our health. Eat organic, eat more veggies, plant trees, make love, talk about your emotions, make music, help other people!

When we set in this direction I was still largely engulfed by fear, but I finally did recognize that we needed to figure out a way to make these changes, and so we set things in motion. In the third installment I'll cover how we planned and implemented the changes in our life.

Till then!

PS – my wife has also written a post about her experience helping me out of this depression, and how the whole experience made our family grow stronger in the end.

My partner's depression was a growth opportunity for our family

The third part of the article is here

How music changed my life, Part 3: Climbing up

How music changed my life, Part 1: Falling down

When you are down, negative, depressed, burned out, or even just tired from everyday routine, having some form of creative outlet is a wonderful thing. It doesn't matter *what* you do – it can be writing or painting or really anything you like – but it does matter that you do something. For me, that is largely music.

This is a story of how, over the first 38 years of my life, I grew out of touch with myself and my values, got into a depression, and almost ruined my family. Reconnecting to music was a key element to understand where I was at, in life.

This post is about 'how I got down there'. The next installment in this series will talk of how I finally awoke to the fact that I had an issue, and how I healed from it.

Personas

I have always loved music since I was a little kid.
I also had music training (piano lessons) since age 7 or 8, after I had begged my parents for a while.
Those music lessons were useful and I am grateful I had them, although they were mostly focused on mastering the 'classics' – i.e. play Mozart of Beethoven perfectly – and not at all on improvisation and composition, and spontaneous flow of emotions.
When I was 16, I dropped out of the piano lessons altogether, after having felt pressured to take it a step higher and do conservatory: I wanted to play rock, metal, anything else by then, and not just copy the famous bands, but compose my own songs, express my own emotions, not play Chopin!
An old second-hand classical guitar that my dad had found somewhere appeared in my life around that time, and I started teaching myself how to play it (this was pre-internet yet, I wish I had YouTube back then!) with some book from the local music store.
I was really crappy with the guitar, but oh the joys of doing my own noise! Expressing myself! No rules to follow!
I even got into a band for some years and I was finding myself.

But at some point I got 'serious': in the beginning of 1997, at age 20 (almost 21), after realizing university was too boring and would be too slow for my liking, I set off in a totally different direction (Information Technology), which would give me economic independence more quickly. Eventually that was still a 'socially accepted' and 'serious' work, everybody in my family was happy and proud of me, and family pressure relaxed.
After a couple of sentimental relationships that weren't the real deal but more like 'proof of concept', me and my soulmate Jyothi – that I knew since I was 19 but we had lost contact with for a few years – found each other back and I got a family with her. I gradually started working more and playing less, and neglected myself my love for music. Nobody told me to stop: it was the fear to be 'silly', not serious, egoistic, or be wasting time for myself.
Maybe because I was told as a kid that artists could never make a living, I was repeating that mantra without questioning it, and music got unconsciously ranked as 'non essential'. So, as I was 'settled', things got busy, and music became something to listen to, but I played and composed very little or close to nothing for several years. By letting go of music, I had locked my soul in a cage I built myself.

[long period of musical darkness]

Fast forward a few years, when we were living in Italy, Jyothi had a miscarriage, but I was already too busy, overworked, tired and blocked emotionally to deal with the associated emotions in a conscious and rational way. Nevertheless, I needed to express them: in a shopping frenzy I decided to buy a new professional sound card for my computer so I could record my compositions – I did it instinctively, or was it divinely guided – and at that moment I started making music again and wrote a couple of songs. But things got busy again very soon – I was travelling for work all the times and I was feeling so lonely, and so did my wife – so I swallowed that pain and didn't really deal with rationalizing the emotions associated with that episode until 2015… I also didn't play nor write much music for another while, as I was never really home, and when I was home I was trying to be a husband and a dad, first. I was spreading myself very thin, and letting my emotions out was really at the bottom of my priorities. It turns out it was a mistake to just try and toughen up / swallow those emotions and keep them locked.
Some music had come out during an episode of pain, but already at that point, with many years of very little or no music and extended exposure to solely 'rational' thinking done in IT companies, I had already shut down parts of myself and some of my other artistic expressions had deteriorated or stopped: I wasn't drawing or painting anymore – I was only drawing networks and other diagrams for work, but nothing artistic – and those couple of songs that came out were still very mechanical and 'stiff'. Also, they didn't have lyrics…

In that period I anyhow intensified my use of the camera and I became a lot better at photography – I used to explain that I still liked music, but photography was more 'portable' of a hobby, which was true: photography meant another artistic outlet that at least let me capture the beauty I was seeing outside and in other people – even while on my business trips – , although I was no longer capable of expressing my own emotions as much, I was at least using the camera to capture stories I saw outside. "The camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera" Dorothea Lange – the famous photographer – said, and she was right.

Fast forward a few more years, I had gotten a career opportunity, so we had moved to America.
While I was still very 'distracted' and mostly just working (in fact, more and more as I was getting 'up' the ladder), I had this big board in front of my face that didn't let me see. I was under the illusion that, since I was providing money by working hard, every other subsystem of me could be just shut down and I would be fine.
Well, not really. But luckily I have my kids that guide me. Kids are the greatest teachers. They are still so 'connected' to source, and if you flow with them and don't try to control them or shape them into what society tells you to, they'll show you the wise way every single time. So in our first year in America, Luca had a chance to get a couple of free piano lessons at school. He loved it so much and started playing a simplified version of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' over and over and over on a crappy little keyboard we had. Then I thought "hey but I have a better one" – with all my music equipment which I had relocated but not yet unpacked, over 9 months after the move.
So I reconnected all my stuff to get him a keyboard, but eventually I also started using it again myself a little. And then a little more, and a little more…
Then we got Luca a better electric piano, and his playing improved a lot and he kept enjoying it. We made sure his teacher used a different method than the one I learned with, so that he would not be too constrained into just the classics but get a broader taste and focus on enjoyment of playing, not perfection.

Luca playing the Piano

My son needed music, but he was a mirror for me, because I needed it too! I was just keeping it quiet and enduring and waiting for 'when I will have time'… while letting the time pass and never actually finding the time for what my soul craved.
At this point the equipment was plugged again, and the house in America was a lot bigger than the apartment we had in Italy, so I could also use a much bigger space, which encouraged my playing. I was also travelling a lot less, just going back and forth to the same office, so I actually was able to find a few moments in the evenings to use my equipment. So I started composing something again – if you look at my 'songs' page you'll see I wrote and recorded several songs over the 2012-2014 period.

All sort of emotions went into those song, as several things happened in that period. Work was more intense than ever, and under a new set of conditions for me: while in Italy I was travelling all the time, even if I was lonely and it sucked, I had long unwinding times for myself where I could take pictures of a new place and spend time outside to reground myself after having been at customers. I am a bit psychic and a bit autistic, I pick up other people's emotions and they stay 'stuck' on me. In the last few years I have learned to recognize and accept that and 'deal' with it to some extent; but before I realized it, in America I was absorbing everybody's emotions and intensities in large projects with hundreds of people, large meetings, conflicting agendas, frequent re-organizations and changes of plans, I had to keep quiet on several things I didn't agree with, and my European directness tended to not match the political correctness that my American colleagues expected. But according to my managers, at the end of the day I was doing great, so they kept giving me awesome reviews and raises (which carried more responsibilities, as I was already burning out) – which incidentally also made other folks jealous, since they were not moving up the ladder quick enough… as a result of all this, I was swallowing emotions, not dealing with them, and bringing a ton of stress home, which eventually made both me and my wife sick. It must have been hard being around me both at work and at home), as I was often behaving like an asshole, snapping for no reason, not trusting anyone anymore.

At least my wife was giving me the space to write songs which could speak from my soul and not from my hurt rational mind! Please listen to 'Where are the days?' and its desperate cry, from that period when I started going out of my mind.
Not just the rhythm at which I worked that contributed to my stress, anyhow: more stressful situations and episodes were also coming from society, for example what I described in the following posts, which I felt 'safe' to post only a couple of years later, after we got out of America…

When I stopped sleeping well at night

Imaginary Friend Sara (about public school in the United States)

There were more bad things happening to us and scaring us in that period, some of which I prefer not to write about, but it felt like the whole universe was screaming at us 'get the heck out of here'. But at the time I didn't clearly understand what was going on in my own head. I was dozed and 'living the dream' or being a successful manager of a famous company, and I refused to see that things weren't quite good for our well being there. I was scared and delusional.

It's easier to rewind the tape like I am doing now and watch the movie (or hear those songs), in retrospective… but while the movie of life is being filmed, it is all improvised and not always conscious – especially when you are always running, you don’t give yourself time to regroup from one task to the next, you don't know exactly what you are dealing with, and you don't control your emotions and what you are letting out. Other people see it. That's why it's important that you let it out also in some creative form, so that you can also have a chance to see it. Because you can better see how you are by observing yourself from the outside. You can only see your problem if you move your point of view out of it. I can only take a photo of the house as a whole if I get out of it, not if I stay inside its living room. Art lets your inner self spew out fragments of a puzzle that is a projection of your conscience, or your soul. The more of these fragments you create, the more the puzzle starts to take shape, till you eventually see what you already knew but were afraid to admit to yourself – and often it is just fear of being all that we can be.

To become self-aware you have to realize how self-aware you're not – Scott Berkun

One thing was clear: I needed music more than I had ever needed before.

In the next installment of this series of posts (which I hope to publish at some point next week), I'll describe at what point I finally became aware of my condition, how I started climbing back up from the hole I had dug for myself, and the role that music played in the recovery process.

The second part of the article is here

How music changed my life, Part 2: Recognizing and acknowledging the issue

Three quarters of 2015, my IT career and various ramblings

September is over. The first three quarters of 2015 are over.
This has been a very important year so far – difficult, but revealing. Everything has been about change, healing and renewal.

We moved back to Europe first, and you might have now also read my other post about leaving Microsoft, more recently.

This was a hard choice – it took many months to reach the conclusion this is what I needed to do.

Most people have gone thru strong programming: they think you have to be 'successful' at something. Success is externally defined, anyhow (as opposed to satisfaction which we define ourselves) and therefore you are supposed to study in college a certain field, then use that at work to build your career in the same field… and keep doing the same thing.

I was never like that – I didn't go to college, I didn't study as an 'engineer'. I just saw there was a market opportunity to find a job when I started, studied on the job, eventually excelled at it. But it never was *the* road. It just was one road; it has served me well so far, but it was just one thing I tried, and it worked out.
How did it start? As a pre-teen, I had been interested in computers, then left that for a while, did 'normal' high school (in Italy at the time, this was really non-technological), then I tried to study sociology for a little bit – I really enjoyed the Cultural Anthropology lessons there, and we were smoking good weed with some folks outside of the university, but I really could not be asked to spend the following 5 or 10 years or my life just studying and 'hanging around' – I wanted money and independence to move out of my parent's house.

So, without much fanfare, I revived my IT knowledge: upgraded my skill from the 'hobbyist' world of the Commodore 64 and Amiga scene (I had been passionate about modems and the BBS world then), looked at the PC world of the time, rode the 'Internet wave' and applied for a simple job at an IT company.

A lot of my friends were either not even searching for a job, with the excuse that there weren't any, or spending time in university, in a time of change, where all the university-level jobs were taken anyway so that would have meant waiting even more after they had finished studying… I am not even sure they realized this until much later.
But I just applied, played my cards, and got my job.

When I went to sign it, they also reminded me they expected hard work at the simplest and humblest level: I would have to fix PC's, printers, help users with networking issues and tasks like those – at a customer of theirs, a big company.
I was ready to roll up my sleeves and help that IT department however I would be capable of, and I did.
It all grew from there.

And that's how my IT career started. I learned all I know of IT on the job and by working my ass off and studying extra hours and watching older/more expert colleagues and making experience.

I am not an engineer.
I am, at most, a mechanic.
I did learn a lot of companies and the market, languages, designs, politics, the human and technical factors in software engineering and the IT marketplace/worlds, over the course of the past 18 years.

But when I started, I was just trying to lend a honest hand, to get paid some money in return – isn't that what work was about?

Over time IT got out of control. Like Venom, in the Marvel comics, that made its appearance as a costume that SpiderMan started wearing… and it slowly took over, as the 'costume' was in reality some sort of alien symbiotic organism (like a pest).

You might be wondering what I mean. From the outside I was a successful Senior Program Manager of a 'hot' Microsoft product.
Someone must have mistaken my diligence and hard work for 'talent' or 'desire of career' – but it never was.
I got pushed up, taught to never turn down 'opportunities'.

But I don't feel this is my path anymore.
That type of work takes too much metal energy off me, and made me neglect myself and my family. Success at the expense of my own health and my family's isn't worth it. Some other people wrote that too – in my case I stopped hopefully earlier.

So what am I doing now?

First and foremost, I am taking time for myself and my family.
I am reading (and writing)
I am cooking again
I have been catching up on sleep – and have dreams again
I am helping my father in law to build a shed in his yard
We bought a 14-years old Volkswagen van that we are turning into a Camper
I have not stopped building guitars – in fact I am getting setup to do it 'seriously' – so I am also standing up a separate site to promote that activity
I am making music and discovering new music and instruments
I am meeting new people and new situations

There's a lot of folks out there who either think I am crazy (they might be right, but I am happy this way), or think this is some sort of lateral move – I am not searching for another IT job, thanks. Stop the noise on LinkedIn please: I don't fit in your algorithms, I just made you believe I did, all these years.

Of quality time, the last 20 years and the best night of my life

Just around this time at the beginning of August, twenty years ago, is when I first met Jyothi.
20 years is a long time, of which we have been living together for the last 14 and have been married for 12 and a half.
As we approach our 40 years milestones (I turned 39 in March, Jyothi in July) we have now known each other for more than half of our lives.
I am so blessed I met my soul mate, my lover, my best friend and the mother of my kids – and I would have certainly never imagined what booking that cheap holiday in '95, after I had passed my high school exams, would have led to.
The best things just happen, you can't stage them or set them up. You need to be in the flow.

Good morning sun!

While this post is obviously an open Love letter to my wife, you have to be warned that the rest of this article is NSFW (Not Safe For reading at Work). Read on at your own discretion.

As I was thinking about writing this piece and how to best explain what our relationship means to me, I stumbled into this article on the Huffington Post, which describes a relationship that looks just about the opposite… it's so far from my views of how a relationship should be, that I'll use it to explain by contrast what both marriage and feminism – and respect – mean to me, instead!

If I should summarize the article in a single sentence, I would probably do it like this twitter comment. But this post contains the extended version.

In the article, he author (a guy who has an 'open' relationship) mounts an articulate argument to attempt to preserve his self-esteem while his wife happily screws other men twice a week (and he's also allowed to but doesn't do it as much as she does…) and he is the 'stay at home dad' and he's obviously very bothered by it but he's trying to deny it and say he's fine and he accepts this cross because he's a Feminist ?!
Sorry but you guys are doing it all wrong. This is not feminism. This is American capitalism: you guys have chosen quantity over quality.

What I get from the story is that the author seems sincerely convinced he's doing the right thing, but there is an underlying lack of respect for him in all that she does – or what he lets us know about it – and he lets her get away with everything. To me it doesn't sound like it's really working: you don't sound happy. It sounds like she enjoys the other guys more, and you are losing her.
You guys should talk and dig deep and understand what's she finding in those other men that you don't seem to give her, but you should also make her stop hurting you. It's also not clear why you really chose to make your relationship 'open' – there is a short explanation but is very simplistic. You should dig deeper there to analyze what led you to that moment, and how you felt there.

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become" – Buddha

Either get back in touch and try to heal each other, or maybe you should even question why you are still together. It's not necessary that one of the two people in the couple has to take it all but then plays the martyr role. There is a lot of passive aggression that transpires from that article, while stating that he's fine with all of it.
Is also not clear how the kids are taking this – they sound like a 'burden' to you. I am not sure how they are living what they see and what they are learning from it. I would think maybe – just maybe – two independent but fully happy parents might actually give a better example in this case than what you are showing them here.

But why did I pick on this article?
Well, it got me thinking because the topic of 'open' relationships has been another cause of bother in our permanence in the United States: wherever we went, we kept ending up meeting/hearing/reading about many 'open couples' and poly-amorous relationships – and we have even been offered (and gently but firmly declined, albeit temptations messed up our minds for months…) to do exchanges and swaps and orgies from people we'd never expected such proposals… never happened in Europe, seriously. Yes some people do those things, it's known. But not that many, really, and from our recent first hand observation I believe the phenomenon is way bigger in the United States than I had ever known or suspected. We were not prepared for that.

Now you would think we are bigots. Moralists. Old fashioned.
It's not the point, we are actually quite open – I am not saying people shouldn't do those things. They like what they like, and that's OK if it really works for them and makes them happy.
But I am, anyhow, stating polygamy and various degrees of 'openness' in relationships aren't something for us, because we think they don't work in practice, and everybody gets hurt.
One of my past girlfriends cheated on me once, and she told me, and I was very hurt but I forgave her. But I think she was unconsciously trying to push me away, and the relationship was never the same again. Then she cheated again, then eventually we split up and she went with her new guy, who incidentally was my band's new guitarist – I had lost my girlfriend and my band at the same time. Neither the sexual nor the 'professional' relationships of that guy with my ex girl and the band lasted long, but it hurt like hell, and it took me a while to put myself together.
Jyothi's ex husband used to cheat on her too (and he didn't even tell her but was pretty obvious/under the sun). He also gambled and made them end up with debts. She took the hit for a while, but she eventually kicked him out and divorced him.

We all have had fantasies. We all have our weird thoughts and fears. Our animal bodies and senses, especially in this over-stimulating society, always crave for more. We are stressed and try to fill a void in the absurdity of our societies and workplaces. We are exposed to all sorts of programming and are actively 'targeted' by marketers who want us to always desire more, to buy more, to feel that we have never enough. This extends to desire for more sex, or more love.
There are even folks who start movements and write that they have 'more' love to give and one partner isn't enough for them. Well, you know what? You might think you can handle it – and maybe you can, for a while – but I see you are spreading too thin. You could spend that time better to strengthen the relationships you already have, if you think they are worth it, rather than starting all sort of new ones. Aren't we all already spreading too thin by time slicing seconds here and there for friends on social network, over life on this side of the screen?
But in relationships you need to tackle the issues you have, and you have got to make some choices. You can fight for and fix those issues when you care for it, or otherwise it sounds like you have already given up but can't dare to admit it.
Either way, you cannot want it all and want it now and throw a tantrum like a baby and get away with it, that's not how life works.

The guy of the Huffington post article mentions that when his wife was sleeping with other men he once got worried when she didn't even come back late but stayed out all night. Gosh, I would die at the idea my wife is out for 'fun' on one of those dates! But this is not feminism, she's walking over you! Feminism is about equality and fairness. It shouldn't mean that women now should emulate and repeat all the bad/stupid bossy behaviors they endured for centuries from men. It's bad and disrespectful behavior regardless of which side does it.

I remember with a lot of pain and solitude the many nights I spent out of the house, and not for fun, in a period years ago when we were living in Italy and I was travelling for work a lot, visiting customers all over Europe and Middle East.
I spent those many lonely nights in (sometimes fancy, sometimes crappy) hotels, often working extra hours not knowing what else to do, sometimes masturbating if I could not hold my hormonal levels, but eagerly waiting to get back home and make love with my wife again. And she spent those same lonely nights at home too, in the same frame of mind…

Did I have occasions to cheat? Plenty – the company I work for even hosts to conference in places like Las Vegas (what is more terrible is that this is a place where Americans families – with kids – go on holiday):

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Welcom to Fabulous Las Vegas

But I never cheated.

Many nights in those hotels I really missed ending the day together with Jyothi, after the kids are asleep, when we can sit or lay together and talk about how our days went and the things we want to do together, and everything and nothing… and when we are together we do make love, yes we do enjoy quite a bit of sex with each other, that really I don't think any of us would even have energies to spare and go with someone else… without taking energy away from what we have. And we don't feel the tradeoff is worth.
And even on the days when we don't make love, we talk, read, we feel life together, we enjoy the little things. We really enjoy being together.

Sitting Next To You

Now, when we moved from Italy (where my work was the one that made me travel so much) to the United States, I was hoping the new job to be done 'at the office' (as opposed to travelling to customers) would give me the time to be more present – not less!
Turns out I was physically present almost every single day now, not travelling every other week anymore… but after a while I fell trap to something else: my job's rhythm became so intense that I stopped being 'mentally' present: for several months my head was just focused on the project I was working on, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep, and I stopped having a life… and I was ruining what we have, because I was becoming absent. Sure, I was working 80-hours weeks and therefore paying the bills, but I wasn't doing anything else anymore, and I was growing distant and grumpy. Jyothi helped me see what I was doing, we talked about it, and she helped me remember who my better self was and how he looked like. Because that's what you do when you care for someone – you fight for him or her, you don't just let that grow more and more distant down any slippery slope. It was a very painful period, and Jyothi also got sick due to all the stress of having to do more alone than ever in a country with no other family or support system, and of what I talked about in the previous three posts on this blog.
I dropped some balls, I delegated more, we moved back to Europe and scaled back on the pressure. But in the end we both grew a hell of a lot stronger – and self aware – together, rather than falling apart.

I am a feminist, and I respect my wife by spending as much quality time with her as possible, whenever possible. Every night is a date night for us. This doesn't mean we need to go anywhere or do anything fancy and spend a fortune; I just mean we are present for each other with emotional intelligence, which is what human beings really need.
Also, we share the load of things like cleaning, cooking, etc – those are not 'mine' or 'her' jobs, they don't have anything to do with who works in an 'official' job and who works at home running after 3 kids… we are pretty fluid in that and naturally take turns – but it's based again on being there and understanding the other "I see you are tired, today I'll cook", things like that. I am sorry for a period I didn't do this anymore, when I had lost myself.

I am a feminist, and I respect my wife by not cheating, even if my dick sometimes does feel otherwise (and I won't deny it). But those organs tend to have a mind of their own. Especially if your colleagues fed you Vodka at the company event and you normally don't even drink coffee, let alone alcohol… But it's safe to assume that pussies have the same impulses, and here's the trick: you can actually ignore those impulses like you can control shopping frenzy. You can, right? Because *that* is exactly the problem, and that is the point I am trying to make – in all this flourishing of 'open' and 'poly' that we have seen in America and keep hearing about on the media, the problem is that people are not in touch with themselves – and with others. They think they can just 'shop' for happiness. Get more quantity. Bigger burgers! More dicks! More pussies! More everything!

This is caused by stress of a life that goes too fast, by being bombarded with horrible stimulations about how you should live, and conditioning of consumerism only seeking to make more money but give out all the wrong values and messages.

Why should you spread thin and handle multiple half-ass relationships, when you can have one that is just amazing?
You can do a million things and do them all crap. Or you can try to juggle a lot less and maybe do each thing you do properly.
Relationships don't "just work" – you have to actually be involved in them and spend effort on making them work. From both sides. And the growth you get – together – is wonderful, and totally worth it.

When a hooker in Vegas tried to get my attention telling she would make me spend the best night of my life, I smiled and continued along my road, thinking the best night of my life had been the night my daughter was born and I had to argue with and shout at the nurse to be allowed to stay with Jyothi in the hospital. I helped her as much as I could, at least with my presence, hearing and feeling her go thru the pain of the delivery.

That's why I am a very lucky man. Because with Jyothi we spend time together and enjoy the little things, and we are a fantastic team. Of two.

 

Holy Cow!

Last December, we were driving northbound, in California, on our way back from a Holiday.

The air was hot, the sky was grey. The whole atmosphere on the highway was gloomy and oppressive.
Then we started smelling something. A stench in the air, was gradually getting stronger as we kept eating up miles.
We were wondering what it was – a lot of pooh for sure but we weren't sure if used to feed the fields or otherwise?
We had never witnessed a smell that repulsive, and it wasn't just pooh – it was certainly a lot of that, but mixed with sweat and tears and sadness and death.
After many miles of that, it became too strong to bear and we were feeling physically cramped up and on the verge of vomiting, and it was then that it appeared. When I saw it I was literally shaken, and I almost lost control of the car: all you could see on a side of the road was miles and miles of bare ground, or rather mud, certainly covered with pooh, till the eyes could see. And those field were literally filled with cows, and more cows, and even more cows – more cows than you can possibly imagine. They were resting on each other, not having enough space to even move, with no grass anywhere, literally standing or sitting in their own pooh, surrounded by clouds of their own farts. Miserable.
I regained control of the car without consequences, and managed to stop the vehicle by the side of the road. I stepped out for a second, I felt like vomiting. I didn't have the guts nor the clarity to shoot a photo. It was like walking in hell.

Now you might think I am over dramatizing – but it really felt that way to me. I knew that high density farms existed, and I knew animals were not treated nicely, but after having seen this, even the memory of it makes me feel the stress and the pain and the desolation of that place in my heart and I can't ignore it.

Think of it – we are what we eat. If the cows have lived that life of stress and pity, do you really want to eat them?

I now largely stopped eating meat – I would not call myself 'vegetarian' as I did not make a strict rule of it – I still eat what I feel like eating (I have eaten lamb twice in the last seven months for example), but I generally found I have little to no appetite for meat these days. I like it, but I don't need it and I don't crave it as I used to.
I am not making an argument for never eating meat. There is place for a bit of that, we are omnivores, but we should making them live happy and treat them respectfully. I am making an argument for moderation, respect, compassion.

There is a passage that Desmond Morris, a famous zoologist, wrote in his book 'The Naked Ape', in 1967:

"[…] It could be argued that, since our primate ancestors had to make do without a major meat component in their diets, we should be able to do the same. We were driven to become flesh-eaters only by environmental circumstances, and now that we have the environment under control, with elaborately cultivated crops at our disposal, we might be expected to return to our ancient primate feeding patterns. […]"

In addition to my ramblings and memories, and a 40 years old book, here I collected a few more recent news/articles I invite you to read and they feature some photos of the horrid place we drove by (and other similar ones):

Besides the 'poor cows' argument, and the willingness (or lack thereof) to eat them after having seen (or just knowing) how they suffer, and whether we need to eat it or not, this type of intense exploitation has side effects for carbon emissions, is responsible for droughts and water problems, and other issues – the articles linked above talk of all these much better than I would. Summary: it is not a sustainable way of farming. It is causing all sorts of issues to the environment, not just the cows themselves. There should be enough warning signs we are doing it all wrong, and yet we continue in this craziness.

Some additional tidbit to note is about the 'diet' of those cows – the last article I linked also brings up some additional information about what the cows are fed:

"[…] Most of the beef consumed in the United States comes from such feedlots, where cattle arrive after living for six months on pasture and grass to be finished for another six months or so on a corn and other grains. Because a diet mainly made up of corn wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows, which are ruminants and designed for grass not grain, they are fed daily rations of antibiotics.[…]"

Corn. Cows are being fed corn.
This is because in America there is an excess production of corn (largely GMO) so that you can basically find corn everywhere (directly, or indirectly) in 75% of products in the average American grocery store:

If you read those articles, you'll see the overall corn industry in the states makes it so that you basically have a very hard time if you don't want to eat corn, you can't find food without it. They force it down on you. A lot of it is GMO, and you can't escape it.
Obesity and other issues (heart problems, etc) in the States are largely related to corn, especially in its derivative product, the 'high fructose corn syrup' that is used as a sugar substitute all over the place (and even in places you wouldn't imagine they'd need sugar for their preparation…). Too bad that high fructose corn syrup is actually junk:

"[…] Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver, which is not a good thing. This means a greater number of calories—about three times more than glucose—are going through liver processes and that results in a much higher production of VLDL (the bad cholestoral mentioned earlier) and fat. It also results in a higher production of uric acid and a lot of other things you don't want, which is believed to lead to fun stuff like hypertension and high blood pressure.
On top of that, fructose consumption negatively changes the way your brain recognizes your consumption. This is because your brain resists leptin, the protein that's vital for regulating energy intake and expenditure (which includes your keeping your appetite in check and your metabolism working efficiently). As a result, you keep eating without necessarily realizing you're full. […] Your brain doesn't get the message that you really consumed much of anything and so it still thinks you're still hungry.[…]"

Give me 'normal' sugar any day please.

But to go back to what the cows – before the humans – eat, they are also fed antibiotics to 'compensate' for having fucked up their digestive system by feeding them corn in the first place!

Cows are so important for milk – even more so than for meat – but we mistreat them and let them live in hell and feed them things they can't digest and medicines; as a result, even their milk is also of poor quality, carrying over the antibiotics and having little nutritional value.

All it would take is to just eat less meat. Just eat less meat. I am not saying none at all, but just a lot less. We don't really need as much of it. Then you need a lot less cows, and you can make them live in comfortable conditions, eat grass (non GMO please) which would be good for them, and enjoy the good healthy milk they'd then start producing again. Live in balance with Nature, not exploit it.

This article about 'the Cows in Hinduism' makes some very good point as to why in India the cow is 'holy' (as in – treated with respect):

"[…] Milk is just as important, if not more so, to Indians as it is to Americans. We use it so much, for so many things, that the respect for the product carries over to affection for the source. Cows are the lifeblood of many small communities, and the size of a herd can indicate a great deal about the status or health of villages in India. We use ghee (clarified butter) and milk in ceremonies, and we revere the cow for providing it. We drink the cow's milk, as though it were our mother's. So indeed, we respect the cow as if it were our mother.
However, the question about 'worshipping cows' is based on misinformation. Hindus do not 'worship,' cows, in the implied sense of the word. There is a religious relationship between us, but it is not one of worship. In its place, there is a deep reverence for life in all forms. […]"

While I wasn't raised a Hindu, this actually resonates with me – I love nature and all of creation, and I think we should always remember we are all interconnected, and hurting nature ultimately hurts ourselves. And it is already making us suffer, because deep down we know we are hurting mother earth, and the environmental issues are showing us that.
Even the Native American knew and told us that. Chief Seathl (Seattle) wrote a letter to the President of the United States of America in 1854:

"[…] Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. […] Whatever befalls the earth befalls he sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. […]"

We should have listened, but you know how that went.

Me and my wife are pretty sensitive, my digestive system was pretty messed up as a kid, from the too many antibiotics the doctors fed me in the '70s, and my youth is a history of food allergies and intolerance that had progressively gone better as I became an adult and gradually de-toxed. In America it all came back, as it is really hard to 'pay attention' to what crap is in each product, each and every day. But as I paid more attention, in the last year I started dreading the sight of the cafeteria's at work and I was often escaping for lunch and heading to a small Indian place that at least used fresh veggies and didn't use GMO-vegetable oils; my wife developed Ulcerative Colitis and literally changed 'shape' from being overweight to underweight, in the last 2 years. Partly due to the food, partly due to the stress of various situations a couple of which I wrote about it my previous posts: http://www.muscetta.com/2015/07/03/imaginary-friend-sara-about-public-school-in-the-united-states/ and http://www.muscetta.com/2015/06/30/when-i-stopped-sleeping-well-at-night/ , and other ones – some of which I won't write about.

 

But specifically in regards to food, in our shopping, we support local farms and try to buy all organic, biologic farmed food. This was the case in America – albeit it was hard to find and *extremely* expensive – and continues to be the case now that we moved to the Netherlands. Granted, you can find plenty of crap also on this side of the world, largely from the multinationals, but it is way easier to find better quality products, and to do so without completely breaking the bank.

I think if America would invest the right resources in supporting sustainable farming it would do a lot of good to all sort of problems the country has.
There is evidence of this all over the place, and yet fueled by the corn lobbies, the pharmaceuticals, and other industries, the intensive planet-destroying methods of food production continue to be supported.

I recently moved to the Netherlands (whose milk – and cheese! – tradition is famous), and the cows I see now are mostly happily roaming in the grass, and watching them is helping me and my wife heal. And healthy, organic Dutch cheese and bread, too.

Dutch cows

Imaginary Friend Sara (about public school in the United States)

This is one more post about things that disturbed us in America, and eventually led to the decision of coming back to Europe.

No, I don't mean to say everything about America was bad. It wasn't. We have learned a lot. We did amazing things, met some incredible people and visited places and nature that is so beautiful it can't be described with words or pictures: my limited attempts to portrait the beauty of that continent are on my photos on Flickr… but in real life it is so much more fantastic. I loved to see Eagles flying over us; I enjoyed camping like primitives among huge trees that have seen an ancient world and shared those spaces with the Native people, in harmony; it's not in many places in the world nowadays that you can drive thru forests or deserts or prairies so beautiful that take your breath away for hundreds of miles; I even had a good laugh when the occasional raccoon decided to climb on our tree at night and eat all the plums (which sounded like a Pig was stuck on the tree, by the way – another strange night episode, but actually funnier that the one with the police I wrote about in my previous post).

But we also experienced a society that, weighting all factors, is not the one we want our offsprings to grow in, and after the first euphoric and exploratory years we couldn't really see ourselves growing old there.

So, here's another story that happened to us. And – as the pain it caused is starting to heal – I am still grateful it did happen and life manifested itself this way, because it truly opened our eyes.

 

One day in November Sara said to my wife: "You know, mum? I have a friend called Sara – she stays out of school, and Sarah enters the school. Then we meet again when I come out."

Sara and Sarah. A trailing 'h' and a fairly different pronunciation (you'd pronounce it 'Sara' closer to 'Zara' than how you say 'Sarah' with an American-English accent). But wait, it's not just about the name – the kid was really telling us she was not allowed to be herself – Sara – in school, where she has to pretend to be someone else – Sarah (the only way people in the States were able to pronounce her name), to meet expectations and handle the pressure in school. The name was just a label for the different 'roles', but this was to us a wake-up call: hearing this from your 5 years old, as a parent, deeply hurt my wife (and myself, later).

Sara had always been a very happy and nice little girl.
But she was telling us she had been wearing a mask, doing everything according to the book in school, while she was being deprived and denied in her own self-image and esteem.

This was her first year in kindergarten – previously she had been in a 'cooperative' pre-school, which had been a relatively nice experience, as basically all the mums were co-teaching the toddlers, so my wife could really be involved in her education and have a clear idea of what was going on.
But at the public school, the school year had only started for a couple of months, and we didn't really know what to expect – sure, Luca, our older son, had started school in America when he was 7 – before that he had done kindergarten and began elementary school in Italy – and his first couple of years had been largely 'English full immersion'. With Joshua we had seen junior high and high schools. Lots of math, largely, I wasn’t particularly happy of the programs either… but with Sara we saw the public school system from the start and that made us even more unhappy.

We expected that 5 years old kids, even if they had to start learning something 'mental', would still be allowed to play and to interact to some extent with each other.
That is not what we found: it was more of a crash course in obedience, submission and a rat race to learn things way too fast and way too early, that completely stressed out our kid.

In the photo below you can see how she had developed an eczema from continuously biting her lower lip – basically respecting the 'stay quiet' and 'listen' and 'don't talk unless you are asked to answer something' she was given as rules. You can also see she was forced in a stiff 'standard' type of smile, not natural at all. If it wasn't that the topic is about my daughter and it hurts, it would almost be ironic this is the 'official' picture for the picture book of the year… so the school can keep good record of how they did that year…

Sara school photo america 2014
What were they asking of her, you might be wanting to know.

Well, we found it pretty intensive that in 12 hours a week (3 hours a day for 4 days):

  • The kids were supposed to learn to read, write, and count and do math with numbers under the 20 – way too much 'logical' thinking at that age, too fast, too soon.
  • No time (or not allowed) to interact with each other (kid to kid) during the lesson and learn social skills and boundaries – just listen to the teacher and return the results, fast, because they need to be measured. Wikipedia has a good comment on those standardized testing and programs:
    •  […] Critics argue that the focus on standardized testing (all students in a state take the same test under the same conditions) encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that the school believes increases test performance, rather than focus on deeper understanding of the overall curriculum. For example, a teacher who knows that all questions on a math test are simple addition problems (e.g., What is 2 + 3?) might not invest any class time on the practical applications of addition, to leave more time for the material the test assesses. This is colloquially referred to as “teaching to the test.” […]                        
  • They only had a break of 10 minutes each day: 10 minutes are not enough at that age they still need to run wild and play spontaneously…
  • Even in those 10 minutes, they were NOT even allowed to eat anything. Because of other kids with food allergies. About this, we even arranged for her brother Luca – who was in the same school but a higher class and was having break at the same time – to provide her snack in the courtyard. The teacher 'closed an eye' on it, until someone found out and complained to the Principal of the school. No, really, my kid needs to eat, and even eat something healthy, *especially* if you expect them to be able to focus and use their brains. They won't offer them to others, and it's easy to implement some slightly more tolerant policies (i.e. please don't give you kids snacks of some categories that cause allergies. Albeit a future post on food allergies – and food in general – in the States is probably something I'll write in the future.). I know that when I am short on sugar, I get grumpy and I can't think straight myself – good sugar is actually good for your brain
  • There was, however, time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (almost) every day. If you don't know what the pledge of allegiance is – it's because you come from a (even if only slightly) more decent country like myself. Also, if you are European, you might have studied that the Americans came to rescue us from the evil Nazi's in second world war, so you might have this feeling that Americans wouldn't do the same things as the Nazi's… would they? Well, you can read about the pledge on Wikipedia but essentially it is a ritual where you swear your loyalty to the American flag that you'll love it and respect it and be a good robot citizen, to say it my way. The whole thing is coupled with holding a hand on your heart, or with a military salute. There is an interesting photo (and its comments) you should read
    • A photo of a child is titled: “little girl giving the Heil Hitler salute 1934.” It is so funny to read comments from U.S. citizens (and others) remarking that the photo is disturbing because it shows how pliable children are. No one is aware that it was the salute used in the U.S. and originated in the U.S. (see the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry). None of the U.S. citizens is aware that the photograph could be of a U.S. girl (and not a german girl) and the commentators would not know. The thought has never entered their minds. They cannot even make a comparison to the modern Pledge of Allegiance ritual and gesture in the U.S.   
[About similarities in the american public school system and the Nazi schools, you should also watch this Disney movie, which ironically was part of American's Anti-Nazi propaganda during World War II]
  • No real 'playing' as kids are not really allowed to touch/get close to each other during play – everywhere they stress about respecting 'personal space'
  • Kids were given 'rewards' when performing what we would consider simple normal tasks – i.e. putting back your chair next to the table (rather than leaving it a mess in the middle of the room) is something we do expect kids to learn early on and do simply out of respect and courtesy. Not something that has to be specially 'awarded' like having been heroic or patriotic. Especially if the reward is this stupid bottle with more Stalin-style (I compared to the Nazi – let's use a different totalitarian example) propaganda:

Bibitone

  • Kid's behavior was tracked and also 'rewarded' with stickers and ribbons and tickets every week – green, yellow and red. I think it's what they use in some prisons in Europe, not in toddler schools:

Stayed Green all week

 

The above list should have given you an idea. And I am sure I am missing and I have forgotten about some details.

If the above looks 'normal' to you – it doesn't have to be like this. It's not like this across the ocean in many countries.

And by the way – we were not leaving in a 'bad' or 'poor' area either – this is one of the 'best' school districts around Seattle, where a lot of educated people live who work for big companies such as Microsoft, Google, Nintendo, Boeing, Amazon, etc…

I broke down when I understood what I made my kids go thru, by coming to work to the States. Thru this and to other episodes.

I am convinced that many people – both Americans from previous generations (when schools were better) or even immigrants like us – don't even *realize* they are exposing their children to this type of programming. Largely because life is frenetic, work is demanding, and both husband and wife both work.

We (me and my wife) like other school systems and methods, like Waldorf, or even Montessori (for some kids it works well, albeit not for all) – that place an emphasis on raising individuals that can be critical thinkers and self-standing humans, not obedient calculating machines.
Anyhow, I didn't even like a 'mitigation' such as sending them to a private school of that kind – they do exist, but private schools are *so damn expensive* that they are really only affordable by a very small rich segment of society. If I had one kids, maybe, but with three – 20 thousand dollars a year per kid are just not something many families can get by, and those are the prices… but even if I could afford it, I believe that gating access to 'better' schools thru money just makes the school environment an 'elite' one: not only unfair for those who cannot afford to access it, but even detrimental for the students who can, as they get no exposure to 'real' society and are raised in a 'bubble', which kind of defeats the purpose and premise of those schools' supposedly more 'open' views. This is of course also what allows some people to go to 'prestigious' colleges and get jobs easily, while others can't even try getting close to the bottom of the ladder. But higher education and access to workforce – is another topic I might look at in a future post, not right now.

Back to the specific effect this school experience had on Sara: I showed the 'stress lip' physical sign above, but there were also deeper psychological effects on her (not) growing up – in fact even regressing in some sense. For example, the summer before she started kindergarten, she was starting to draw more detailed 'puppets' – not just a head with 'sticks' – she was starting to add bodies and fingers and more details… and then, only a couple of months in kindergarten, she was only drawing heads again. And small ones.

Guess what happened once we moved to the Netherlands and she started attending a (public, tax-funded – here it's normal) Waldorf school?
In this last couple of months her drawings 'evolved' again, and they started featuring bodies again (in fact, the body is now drawn before adding a head on top of it – and it even gets a belly button!) and hands and feet have become more detailed due to the stimulation of being immersed in physical/practical/interpretive activities as opposed to just 'mental' ones like it was the case at the public school in the states.
Besides drawings, she has had a growth burst – she grew a few centimeters all of a sudden, and started changing not one but FOUR teeth, and she's literally blooming with vitality.

And the imaginary friend? We have not heard from her again – there is just the real Sara now:

Sara and the windmill

When I stopped sleeping well at night

If you are here for IT content – this is not one of those posts. It also doesn't feature any new song and it's NOT politically correct. But it is a true story that happened to us while living in the United States.

It was Friday night. Or you could call it Saturday 'morning' – basically it was fairly late, like quarter to 2 AM in the middle of your weekend, after a very hectic week – we were finally relaxing: we had had dinner, watched a movie, the kids had all gone to sleep, me and my wife had made love and we had been talking in bed and we were finally starting to fall asleep. We both were in that in between state between darkness and wonder, when you aren't completely in Morpheus' arms yet but not fully awake either. But pretty damn relaxed and almost ready for some great night sleep…
…thump…
I start hearing noises – are they from outside? A car? People? Not sure, I try to ignore them but they kind of broke the spell already… Is anyone with military boots walking in my dream or in my front yard? Are those our crackling wooden steps to the door that I hear? I have never been scared for burglars and the like – we simply don't own anything that is worth stealing… wait, are they knocking at the door?
I realize my wife's breathing has also changed, she is half awake too, I ask: "Is that our door that they are knocking at?" – and they knock again, harder – this time we are sure we heard it right. Is this a nightmare? I try to crawl out of bed, put something on (I was previously naked)… the knocking continues and my temper starts raising as I get worried they – whoever it is – might be waking up my little daughter (or her older brothers, but she'd be more effort to then calm down again if she wakes up with nightmares…). I walk thru the corridor, down the little stair (the house was on a split level) and reach the door – still in the dark. I ask: "Who's there?" and I receive a thunder in return: "Police!".
Not sure I can recollect all that went thru my mind – now even more confused if this was some kind of nightmare I was in – and my heart started racing. I froze. I have done nothing wrong, I thought. What could they possibly want at this hour of the night?
I try to mumble something like "I am trying to open the door" – which was indeed what I was trying to do, but I was still in the dark, incapable of thinking straight and finding the light switch.
I fiddle with the doorknob and lock enough and eventually I manage to open the door on a gap – I am still in the dark indoor, and the outdoor lamp is still on and blinds me from behind two tall, dark, male figures with weapons et all… I am frightened but I nonetheless attempt to pull out a straight face and say something. In the absurdity of the situation, the only thing that comes out of my mouth is: "Whatsup?".
The police officer does not seem amused, and he asks for Joshua.
I think a million things again – has he done something wrong maybe? He's such a good boy…
I say I am not Joshua, that my son is downstairs, in his room, presumably sleeping. I hear in the back that now my daughter has woken up from the noise (and the tension in the air) and my wife is attending her, trying to calm her down. The officer explains that there is no time to lose, that they had received a call from a very good friend of Joshua and she thought he might be committing suicide because he was not returning her messages and had turned off his phone (!?). It takes me a minute to register what I just heard – did he just say that? Suicide? Joshua? What does he know about Joshua anyway? Since when is it a felony to switch off a phone? I am the teen's parent, I have seen him grow up, he's a stable boy (especially when I see other teenagers). Whatever 'very' good friend – since we had only been in the states a couple of years at that point and Joshua had changed schools in between – is probably just some hormonal teen who wants attention, I think – but I of course I don't say this. I just say "yes, I know that he broke up with his girlfriend, but we talked about it and he seemed pretty fine with this, almost relieved. I don't think he would commit suicide; certainly not for this.". As a matter of fact, the counselor and principal of the school had spoken with my wife about this during the day, and they had informed us they knew about the 'break up' and that they had spoken to Joshua and he seemed fine (and may I admit that this thing *already* looked like over-protective and privacy invading to us?).

But the police men insist they have received a call and they need to perform their duty and make sure he's fine. My wife also comes by, I tell her something quickly about what's going on, but basically we have to walk down and make an entrance into Joshua's room, and turn on the lights and brutally wake him up and have the office verify that indeed he seemed quite fine. Joshua explained he had just turned off his phone as he wanted to sleep. Thank you for coming by.
They eventually concluded there was no evident risk, and left. Nothing happened, no 'formal' consequences…
…but I didn't sleep that night until 3 hours later, and I think the rest of the family slept uneasily too.
And I have slept crap since that day for the couple of years afterwards, and I never felt safe in my own house again. Or anywhere.

How do they dare to think they know our son better than we do?
How can they listen to a report of a hormonal teen and just raid into people's homes like that?
What a fuzz, and what an annoying invasion of privacy – into my son's private life as well as in our home!
American citizens worry for the NSA but they don't worry for this kind of behavior. Most don't even seem to 'see' the issue here – the scariest thing of all is the reaction of some of our American friends once we told them this story: some of them were along the lines of "how good/nice that they came to check! Makes you feel safe, doesn't it?". And they were not being sarcastic – they positively thought that was a good thing.
You can keep that if that makes *you* feel secure.
It make me literally pooh-pooh my pants. I felt I (we, all) were at the mercy of total randomness and we had to be scared of the people around us, because they could easily be following their paranoia's and get us into trouble, with no proof whatsoever needed to initiate the process.

I had never heard of or lived anything like this. Besides in the stories of the people deported by the Nazi's to the concentration camps – in no country in Europe you get the police at your door in the middle of the night for something like this!

This type of situations is one of the reasons that made us really stressed and sick (call us over-sensitive) in the last couple of years we have been in America, and we eventually decided it was not the place for us, and we moved back to Europe. I will be sharing some other stories and reasons in future posts… stay tuned.

Ponyo, society and translations

Since I speak three languages, I have also seen a lot of Miyazaki's works translated in other languages (namely in Italian), and I can't help but prefer the Italian translations above what they make the characters say in the united states.

I am talking of subtleties here – and they are more cultural than linguistic.

Take for example this dialogue in the movie 'Ponyo' ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0876563/ ).
If you have not seen the movie – you should – keep in mind Sosuke is a 5-years old. Ponyo is a fish who changed into a human to be with him because they love each other.

[…] Goddess of Sea: You know that Ponyo was a fish, don’t you?
Sosuke: Mm-hm.
Goddess of Sea: and you know her as a human. Your drop of blood did that.
Sosuke: Oh, that’s it! I cut my thumb. Then Ponyo licked it and made it better. So that’s how she changed into a human.
Goddess of Sea: Could you love her if she moved between two worlds?
Sosuke: Mm-hm. I love all the Ponyos. It’s a big responsibility, but I really love her.
[…]

Now, I really have an issue with that last sentence. Big responsibility? That's not how my 5 years old talks!
Since I speak three languages, I have also seen the movie in italian: while I can't tell if that's truly closer to the original japanese (but I suspect it is), the italian translation is more child-like and pure, and conveys more unconditional love. It sounds roughly like this:

Sosuke: Mm-hm. I love all the Ponyos: Ponyo the fish, Ponyo the human-fish, and the human Ponyo too. I love all of them.

I think it is much sweeter. Down to basics. The way a 5 years old kid really talks.
By contrast, the english translation is more of a 'what are you expected to be saying from society' – which, if you ask me, wouldn't have been necessary, and it gives it, in my opinion, a disturbing twist: it takes the purity out of that moment and makes it some sort of commercial deal or contract!

That 'it's a big responsibility, but I really love her' makes it immediately some sort of tradeoff… should Ponyo start having a guilt trip because Sosuke accepts the 'responsibility'?

Sosuke doesn't even see it as a responsibility! He is just manifesting the unconditional love that kids are capable of giving (and many adults forget how to, when they get later obsessed with money or other 'responsibilities').
Moreover, what about Ponyo herself – she already did a big effort herself to become a human – and that 'responsibility' and that 'but' really don't seem to acknowledge that anymore, and unbalance the situation.

I know, I am such a snob. But words are important, and carry powerful implications.

Markets

One thing that we (both me and Jyothi) miss in the States, are markets. Flea markets, 2nd hand markets, veggie markets, spice markets… all kind of open air markets. You must think we are nuts – there ARE markets here, after all!
Well, yeah. Sort of.
I mean, if you consider the various famers markets, thrift stores, garage and yard sales and various other markets (i.e. today we went to the Freemont's Sunday Market for example), yes there are various places where you can get either the market feeling and/or rummage in between old junk and find hidden treasures.
But… the biggest 'but' we have is that all those things are either geographically dispersed (you need to drive miles in between each of them) and even in the case of those markets… they are SMALL. You can see the entire Freemont market above in 20 minutes. It's nice – I even shopped! – but by the time you start having that cozy market feeling… you reached the end of the street, you have seen it all – that WAS it.
Seriously. EVERYTHING in America is big, but markets here are really nothing for us spoiled Europeans who have been visiting Portobello Road, Porta Portese and the Bazaar in Bewerwijk.
I mean a MARKET. in ALL CAPS.
One that you get there at 10 in the morning, you walk around a section of and around 12 you get some lunch, some tea/coffe, then you walk some more… then by 3 PM you still have not managed to see it all, and you finally give up, happy and exhausted, and head back home…
American friends – where are you keeping the good markets hidden? Do you even know what I am talking about?