• heavymetalteacup

The Refuge Shaped Like an iPad Mini, and the Fried CPU

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

5th October. It's been months since my old job, the one I had for decades, the one where people used phrases like "rock star" and "<client> loves you" to describe...me, or, well more accurately NOT me - but rather the person I tried to be for them perhaps a little too well, all while I felt myself fading away from the inside out, year after year, after decade. I still find there's a cloud over me some mornings; I still have to remind myself that it's gone, that I've left that world. It was not what I had been educated in, it was not the career I'd ever asked for, or raised to covet, and yet I found myself there for half my life.

"Past me" took it for the reasons we too often do - the practicality, the money was good, the right time, and of course, good old sheer unadulterated "work or you starve" survival lurked in the background, that most soul-killing of whips, cracking to remind you that this world, this construct, in which we live, comes before you do, and that "passengers must not cross the line". Another culture and time zone took precedence over my own; I didn't know how to shut off, how to switch gears. It all started to blur together - my life didn't belong to me, and I did not know how to stop that. My schedule meant any hobby I tried to start, I had to quit; I could not be off when others were, and life here, in the world I lived in, was a place that I sometimes visited to buy groceries, where acquaintances - but not friendships - could be made, where I lived long enough to wake up, slam back enough coffee to drown a horse and then, briefly, numb my brain on whatever "renovation of homes most people can't afford anymore" TV bullshit lay in front of me before sucking it up, working, making dinner, and crashing...and going at it again, one more time. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.

Depression was my morning default state for years; a dull dread when I'd first awake, then the welcome improvement: a numb, empty and vague sort of disconnectedness. My evening default states were tired, frustrated or angry, when I had enough energy left to be angry. But the most pervasive emotion was that I felt like I wasn't participating in my own life. I observed it, as it passed me by. Life felt like I lived it in a fog... until I sat down to my desk, then the lights in my brain would switch on. It was like autopilot mode, caffeinated, engaged to the point of distraction. "Damn, you type fast," someone would say, and someone said that to me today, and it hit me in ways that I know they hadn't intended, brought back that feeling, a twisted and dead pride in something you don't give a shit about but you care about PRIDE so you somehow....clap and beg for the fish regardless. Rock star performing seal mode: activated. Be nice, be fast, know the answers, anticipate the questions, dozens of people need you, call you nice things, but your core is melting down and you've been here before and you're getting angry again. You meant to pee two hours ago. You're still standing here. You meant to eat an hour ago. You're still standing here. Do rock stars work in their bathrobes because they never stopped to get dressed that day? Cold coffee, cold tea, husband said something, not sure what it was. Fleeting moment of feeling bad before I forget I had a fleeting moment of feeling bad. Do rock stars forget everything they ever wanted to be because their fear of falling through the cracks of life drives them to over-perform at every possible turn? Do rock stars provide half-listening distracted answers to virtually everyone they love, but never to those whom they do not? Does their title and the praise mean more to them than their sanity? Maybe. But does that sound like a success story to you?

"Your mental health matters more than this," my husband said, my dear husband who I met in an MMO many, many years go - whose life, like mine, was a mess when we met. Seriously, we were the poster children for "people who really have no business trying to be with other people". But we did. And miraculously, we'd both changed ourselves, so much for the better, in the years since. "You can quit anytime." He was ready to be there for me, as I'd been for him at the start - I'd supported him when he was still at university. "I can't yet, " I'd respond. I always had reasons. "Need to replace the couch. Need to rebuild my PC. Want to save more first. Afraid of x, what if y happens..." and on, and on.

My education wasn't in that field, my values growing up weren't in that field but past me, frightened and worried about surviving, leapt into it without question, and any feeble attempts I made to set boundaries at the time, I failed to maintain. I never meant to stay so long, to matter to them so much, when it all mattered so little to me. But I'd tell myself how lucky I was to have the salary I did, to work from home, to live where I wished to live. But such "freedom" is an illusion; freedom is only really the ability to choose what captures you, and this was not chosen, it was necessity. Survival mode. Fear of the gap in the cracks of the sidewalk of life. Fear drives you but it eventually breaks you. Pushed, and pushed and at some point many days I'd feel my head get hot; the "fried processor", I called it, where I couldn't type faster, but a cacophony of information, of questions, kept coming; there was no end, no period on the sentence because it was one of those jobs that lacked the satisfying moment where you sit back and say "There, that's done." My former field was a hamster wheel of never-ending changes, unseen landmines and constant emails. It's common for people to burnout after two years doing what I did. I did it for two decades.

I stayed so long, and time goes so fast. Life - so much of our lives - are marked in terms of hours "at desk" and hours "not at desk". It was when I really thought about how old I was getting (and I'm getting old), that I couldn't do that anymore. I was headed to a place where self-loathing was not going to reconcile in the time I had left & whatever this life was, it was starting to feel not worth it to me if this is what it was going to feel like for the rest of it. I'd been "there" before as well - that unforgiving, howling void of...psychic exhaustion, where your own existence seems utterly pointless; you feel the world, and you, are quite tired of each other. It had just been for different reasons. I couldn't find energy to study or think about next steps, how could I, when I didn't even want to be here anymore? There is no horizon in a heavy storm.

My husband was right - I had to quit. And while we took a financial hit for me to walk, I didn't do so unprepared. We had bought a modest flat with a smaller mortgage, so that helped. We planned, crunched the numbers, saved, removed any other debt. Every cent I didn't need to spend, I didn't spend it. COVID ironically helped; I'd let my hair grow out longer, and cut his myself. Tightened our food budget. I invested every possible penny I could, in the hopes that in the years ahead, at least it wouldn't be worth LESS...and then.... finally...I jumped out of the car that was speeding towards the end of the road.

I never expected crypto to be the space I'd end up in now. It's at once an invigorating and yet...deeply dysfunctional space. As a person with a musical education and background, coming back to art now - to painting, is still not something I can easily explain. Somehow crypto led to Cardano led to helping SPOS led to me....painting?! Well, yes. It started as a way to relax. At some point it became a challenge to see if i still could do it. I'd sketched a frog, then some mandalas, then...ok sure, "I'll try to paint Ada," I thought, without much more depth than that, other than she'd be my way - a lighthearted take on old portraiture, part RPG character, Joan of Arc meets...Barbarella? I didn't know. I just started sketching. Could I even do it? Could I do it in time for smart contracts? Dare I try to make it a CNFT and sell it? And most of all, would I finish it when my inner voice kept screaming at me "EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH IS POINTLESS, AND YOU SUCK. STOP." (Take note: if you hear yourself in that sentence, this is why the "rock star" can be such a poisonous trap, the performing seal - praise quiets those voices when someone cheers you on, but only for a moment. ) If you're not careful, then you will lose yourself in the need to be sure people approve of you, the desperate hope that they will see the things that you see in whatever you've made, and it hurts you too deeply to be healthy when they do not. And the brutal truth is, most of them won't, because this is all very, very subjective.

But that need is the killer of the creative child who draws or sings because they want to say something, because some part of them NEEDS to do it, and isn't interested in fame, or consequences, or money. The purest of reasons is not the applause, it's the compulsion to pull the thing that's in you, out of you, and set it free into the universe, no questions asked.

Adulthood has a way of breaking that in many of us, that little golden rope that ties us to the simplest of joys, pulling the abstract feeling into something concrete. So now it was just me, versus the cruel and twisted voice in my head, doing it's best to pull me down. It was becoming increasingly hard to finish as the closer I got, the louder the self-criticisms became. But I won, Ada won. I finished her, inspired by her portrait at 20, her mildly amused expression and her charming crooked tooth, the woman that first realised that computers could make MUSIC hundreds of years ago had also now become my heroine with a crimson crypto banner, and improbably bendy metallic suit and boots. The first thing I'd painted in years; in fact, the FIRST serious digital painting I'd tried to make in my life (before that I'd used pencils, or painted in acrylics, or Windsor & Newton's water-based oils and even then only occasionally...and even then, it was mostly horses or still life.).

I see her imperfections, the skin lacking details that I should have considered beforehand, it's the hand of someone self-taught that understands, on some instinctual level what light does with colours, and where body parts go, but is clearly someone just getting her ground back. But mostly, I see her finished. I see that I won that round. Someone buys one of her mints, and it hits something in me, something healing and restoring. Someone gets it enough to like it. But I can't let that be the reason I do it. That's...dangerous. It's not the golden rope that leads you to creating again, when it's shaped like a noose.

I mustn't lose that feeling, because when I started Beethoven, this all started to matter even MORE - because he was that figure that had touched my heart as a child, as a young musician at university - not just for his music, but for who he was. I love that person, I can say that, but not in a way that I can explain without sounding mental. I cried over his abuse, felt for his frustrations, saw the stories of compassion and anxiousness that leapt out between the lines, knew the feeling of his distracted and sloppy ways when something he was doing was simply more important than this inconvenience of being human and all the trappings of said human-ness, forgetting to eat, not wanting to sleep, "essential trivialities" in the face of the all-consuming desire to MAKE THINGS that were inside your head, so strong that it rules your mind. A feeling both exhausting and invigorating, it's one where you feel less like a person and more like a vessel for some raging incoherent force that absolutely has to be given a place to reside.

For all his stubbornness and quick temper, for all the abuse he endured as a child, he stood up for himself, for his art, indeed for musicians overall, in a way that was unprecedented at the time. That said - for all his fame, he lingered perilously near financial ruin, and if it weren't for the London Philharmonic's gift of funding in his final years, he would have had been in dire straits. 20,000 people thought to come to Beethoven's funeral....but the man was nearly broke. "We loved the art," I think to myself, "Just not enough to pay for it."

And on that note - I look over at my husband and thank him constantly these days, for giving me the chance to escape and figure myself out again, while I study. I can't explain to him how deeply, truly grateful I am that he wants this for me, now. He keeps telling me it doesn't matter what I earn, because I'm making art again. I want to believe that, even as the twin demons of perfomance, the rock star and performing seal are lurking, ready to pump the highs of a sale, and the despairing low of the silent reception. I have to learn to be tougher if I am going to do this, I know that. Create, be grateful that you can create, and focus on that.

I wrote this first blog post, feeling the exhaustion of the last two days after taking on a task that somehow brought me right back to that old job, it felt at once imperative and yet impossible, doable but not yet done, and somehow I decided I must do it. It was my own fault, and may well be a futile effort without benefit to those whom I did it for - and all of it was a firm reminder that we're not here forever, we have only one "processor", and much like the 3080 GPU in my beloved PC that I waited 6 months for, it ain't all that easy to get another one. Take care of your brain.

I also noticed how - much like those decades at that job - I found myself tonight rechecking the computer compulsively, not knowing why. What little time I had left tonight, I made this blog page, because writing has often been the only way I can "speak" accurately, especially to myself. Communicating well with others often feels like something I "perform" but am not actually good at, at all. And I'm too tired to paint tonight, to visit Ludwig the Defiant, the work in progress. I love this piece so far, if I'm honest. It makes me smile, the tattoo he has, the big hair, a bit of muscle. (I'm reasonably sure I've given Ludwig abs he never had and I could care less because sexy Beethoven is a lot of fun to paint.) But I also, more soberly, I feel like I missed a coffee with a friend; a little time in my unexpected refuge, with the handsome, but very dead man on my iPad mini. Quiet, contented peace eluded me for YEARS.....and now, it comes fleetingly - in tiny imperfect strokes, pixel by pixel.

It brings me peace no human is able to do. Music does this for me as well. And he represents both. He means so much to me, for so many reasons. It's scary really. I just want to do him justice. I want to do me justice but today my mind is a burnt out CPU, fried & useless. Too tired to improve, much less perfect.

Apparently freedom is something I am still learning how to navigate.

I'm sorry, Ludwig. I'll do better - by both of us - tomorrow.

- KN, 5th Oct 2021

Bust of Beethoven, by Franz Klein (1812)
Bust of Beethoven, by Franz Klein (1812) - notable for it's accuracy, as Klein cast Beethoven's living face using liquid plaster at 42.

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