Thump-thump.. Thump-thump.. Thump-thump……. Thump-tHuuuuUUummmMMmmPPP
Right now I’m lying in a hospital bed staring up at the stale neon lights that roll along the ceiling of the cardiovascular unit. My heart feels like a sticky water balloon struggling to inflate while shaking against the inside of my chest with every beat. A few hours ago I decided to admit myself due to an irregular heartbeat that had been becoming more frequent and prevalent during the previous week. This is by far the scariest experience I’ve ever had.
There are a lot of thoughts passing through my mind, but mostly all I can think about are the two albums I’m currently working on and whether or not I will be able to continue to attend my gym- that is, if I make it out of here alive.
“Fuck. If this is it, if today is the day I die, I can’t leave the music unfinished. I don’t want Pyramids In Stereo to be my final message to the world. I need to complete these albums and leave on a better note”.
This is the conversation I’m having with myself as the heart monitor hovers over my head and steep neon mountains bounce up and down across the screen. The thoughts within my thoughts, as strange as it sounds, are fighting against the will of my ego. What the fuck does music matter right now? I have loved ones, people that love me and whom I love deeply, that I will be leaving behind. Why is it that the only thing I can think about are the handful of songs that will be left unfinished? Why are these fragments of creativity at the very center of my desire to live?
Because that’s all I’ve ever lived for.
I can hear the wails of agony, fear and pain all around me. People, young and old, all terrified and pressed up against the cold boundaries of reality searching their minds for any explanation as to why or how they’ve ended up here. Some of these people will receive good news- a minor heart murmur or a bad case of indigestion- some of them will not. As I close my eyes and take a deep breath I can feel the stench from the industrial grade cleaner in my gown and bed sheets stinging my nostrils. People die here- people have died on this bed and died in this hospital gown. The shadow of death is hard to ignore in this place.
The doctor pulls back the curtain and stands at the foot of my bed. “Ok. So your blood pressure is perfect, the ECG showed nothing abnormal, your blood test looks good and your chest x-ray looks great as well. You’re healthy and free to go…. These things are hard to understand and sometimes people just drop dead for no reason. We’ll give you a portable heart monitor to wear during the weekend but it looks like this might just be an irregular heartbeat”.
Alright, so is this good news or bad news? I’m healthy, but since my heart likes to fuck around and look normal on paper I might just randomly die out of nowhere? Thanks for the positive outlook. I guess now I’ll go back to exactly where I was three hours ago before I came to the emergency room.
Unlike my petrified neighbors in the cardiovascular unit, I am well aware of how my heart ended up sputtering out of control. For years I have been constantly pushed to the brink of insanity and exhaustion as a result of my unwillingness to stop dreaming. I’ve fought against a rising tide of normalcy and held onto my art with every inch of strength in my body as the vacuum of mediocrity has attempted to pull me in and swallow me into darkness.
Average- that word scares me more than a bad heart. 40 hour work weeks, weekend trips to Home Depot, vacations in Palm Springs, button-up shirts, Dockers, play dates, meaningless conversations at company barbeques, a loveless marriage and a passionless existence. Holy Jesus, lord fuck me running. The fuzzy grey blur of the white collar utopia is like hell if Satan exploded and went to a hell that was 100 times worse than the helliest of all hells imaginable. Even the idea of happy hour cocktails on a patio filled with young professionals makes my balls jump inside of my body and fly up somewhere between my stomach and the top of my throat. I will walk clear past former high school classmates if I detect a slight flicker of white collar pretentiousness. That entire world, the wide middle gap filled with non-dreamers, is the barren wasteland of humanity.
By no means am I insinuating that I’m any more special, important, significant or better than anybody else. In fact, by all stretches of the imagination my choice to continue dreaming was probably a terrible one. I’m sure that in the opinion of the middle class utopian, I am a far below average achiever. I don’t own any property, I generally let most of my bills go past due and I live between brief moments of happiness. I sit in a hot studio and push my voice through notes and percussive instruments until finally it all clicks together and I’m inside of a song. And for what? So a few thousand people can download and discard it as they please? If that’s all that it is, then yes.
I’ve decided to see another doctor for a second opinion. As I sit on the examining table she looks through my hospital records and offers some reassurance. “Your kidneys, heart and liver all look great. Everything I see here is perfect.” She stands up and pushes her stethoscope against my chest, still covered with traces of the pads from the heart monitor I had been wearing all weekend. “I can hear it. I know exactly what that is. It’s a premature atrial contraction. It’s very common and non-life threatening. It will come and go but it’s something you’ll have to live with. Smoking, alcohol, caffeine and stress will bring it on for sure so quit smoking and take it easy.”
I breathe a sigh of relief and walk out of her office. Later that day I’m in my Jiu-Jitsu class and my heart is racing. The doctor suggested high intensity cardio workouts and mixed martial arts is about as intense as it gets. I love being here. I still get knots in my stomach every time I walk into the gym and feel the mats under my feet. Boxing, Muay Thai Kickboxing, Jiu-Jitsu and Wrestling- expressions of self in the most brutal yet intimate way possible. I myself know that my interactions with this art form will never leave the walls of this gym, but as I look around at some of these young men training to someday become great I feel reinvigorated. These guys are dreamers too. This is all they’ve ever wanted to do and they will sacrifice everything to reach their goal. They bleed, sweat and breathe their art form in the hope that the hands of fate will guide them along a path to not only financial security but also, and perhaps more importantly, artistic perfection.
All of the years of stress and strain to try to achieve some unknown zenith of artistry pushed me to the edge of my own abilities and caused me to disregard everything for the sake of the art itself. Since the first day I stood behind a microphone I’ve been chasing two specific albums, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “E.1999 Eternal” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, in the pursuit of the same creative plateau. In my mind I can see the top of the mountain, but once my voice slices through the music I find myself slipping further away from it. Nothing I record sounds like it does in my head and so I end up fighting with my own limitations and falling further into depression with every song I add to an album. The more depressed I become, the more I search for an escape and I usually find it in alcohol. The more I drink, the more detached I get from the music, which leads to even more unhappiness. This cycle goes on and on until the album is complete. Lately I’ve been working to break this chain, and maybe this health scare was a message from the universe that I need to take better care of myself.
Regardless of what a magic creator in the sky might be trying to tell me, I can honestly say that I would much rather die than stop dreaming. Above or below, either one of them is better than average.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for RefinedHype.com. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo". You can also contact him here and here.]