Why you should give yourself (and me) a break
A man is only as good as his C-PAP machine. That statement can be further extrapolated, and through a series of inferences, we can conclude that if said gentleman’s C-PAP machine is fried by the current fickle… eh… current of Norwegian electricity, then he too is fried. More on this, later…
My struggles of the past couple of days are rooted in my inability to embrace the fact that I have not released a podcast episode since January 9. My inability to embrace is rooted in… well, I’ll get to that later. Can you feel the suspense? No? Me neither, but that is because I know what I am going to write. You don’t, and yet you feel no suspense. Hmm… Millennials… These ellipses do nothing for y’all…
My viewers and listeners have grown accustomed to me releasing, on average, almost two podcast episodes every week, and I have grown accustomed to delivering that content with that frequency. I can say that for the first 21 months since the first episode of The Comin’ Home Podcast With John Alan, I have had no negative stress when it comes to creating and presenting my content. I’ve only had the positive stress or excitement, that comes when I enjoy the challenge of the self-imposed task before me. Guests have always been easy for me to find, and they’ve all been a delight to converse with on my shows. Different artists and bands have asked me to write lyrics for their projects, but I’ve easily explained that I write according to inspiration, and not according to deadlines, and they’ve understood that. Positive stress has permeated and percolated throughout those months, but suddenly, right around New Year, I started to feel negative stress, and yes, even regret while preparing episodes and programs. I began to wonder if I had fallen into an ugly trap that one can easily and unsuspectingly allow being led into by others – the trap of expected or forced creativity.
For me, creativity is something that comes from inspiration, usually from within and based on feelings or observations. It is a self-motivated initiation of a type of “reception” that allows me to be open to ideas when I am writing, (be it music, lyrics, or non-fiction), performing standup, or speaking at a public event. I also draw from that well of self-motivation when I am riffing on the mic during one of my radio broadcasts or talking with a guest on my podcast. I think it is important to note that, for me, creativity cannot be forced. That may sound odd coming from a podcaster and radio program host who has deadlines and content delivery dates as well as calendar syncing with guests.
What is expected or forced creativity? – you ask.
Well, you didn’t ask, but I’ll go into it anyway. It really is a simple answer. Forced creativity is forced upon the creator, and expected creativity is expected (usually) pressed upon the creator by someone other than the creator. Neither of those two situations is conducive to genuine creativity. Oh, sure, I could write a great song if I had a knife held to my throat, and I could produce an uplifting radio segment if I had pliers gripping my pinky-toenail. The two most important ingredients missing from such forced creativity would be positive stress and the previously mentioned well of self-motivation. To be honest, now that I think on it, I would probably not be able to come up with that song or program while under the weight of post-nineties-Bruce Willis-breaking duress. I would probably get my carotid slashed, my pinky toe mangled, and what’s left of me thrown down that proverbial well that I spoke of a few sentences back.
So, after twenty or so months of problem-free creativity, this past month has been an uphill battle. I normally embrace my life as it is in the moment. I usually embrace my successes, and even my failures, as failure is something from which I learn and grow, but I haven’t done that this past month. I have not been as productive as I have desired to be. Or can it be that I subconsciously didn’t want to power through and force (!!) myself to be productive? Oh, I continued to invite guests into my studio, and I recorded and filmed those encounters and conversations. They will be great podcast episodes and radio program segments when I complete all the postproduction work on them, but something has been getting in the way and rubbing out that steady stream of creativity that is needed for me to see these fruitful encounters through and into the creation of documented episodes. I have failed to see my creativity to fruition, and I, atypically, fail to embrace that failure. This failure is rooted in something which has dragged my productivity, my creativity, and my acceptance of my “current I) almost to a standstill.
What is the soil, this “something” in which you are rooted, John Alan? – you ask.
Again, you didn’t ask, and again, I will answer, even in the absence of inquiry. All of this is rooted in my C-PAP machine. I’ll explain.
I started using a C-PAP about fifteen years ago. Many people who sleep with a C-PAP describe it as a burden, and as something they’ve never gotten used to. I, on the other hand, fell into a perfect symbiosis with my C-PAP right away. It radically changed the quality of my sleep, which in turn, improved the quality of my life in general, and specifically both my physical and mental output. Reminds me of my wife…
Anyway, I digress. My C-PAP machine died. My C-PAP machine died a long, slow death, probably starting about a month ago, although I didn’t recognize it the time as the beginning of the end of something upon which the essence of my basal health depends. Every few nights, starting after Christmas, I would wake up feeling slightly suffocated, almost as if a very, very weak person was strangling me (Thank you Mitch Hedberg). This happened, with no specific pattern all the way up until last Friday night, when a fuse in our bedroom blew, and my C-PAP machine would not start after we reset the fuse (When I say “we”, I mean my wife. I’m simply not getting out of bed at zero-dark-thirty for anything less serious than a home invasion). I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in Norway on the weekends, there are no nurses available in ear-nose-and-throat units in hospitals. I had. To. Manage. Two. And. A. Half. Nights without my beloved C-PAP machine. I need to tell y’all – I slept with that thing every night for these past fifteen or so years. Every night, faithfully! I can’t even say that about my wife. No, no, there was no cheating or stepping outside of our marriage. Get your gossip elsewhere. She has just chosen to work the night shift these past two-and-twenty-odd years, which has left her side of the bed unoccupied from time to time, depending on her work schedule. I’m not so macho as to not be able to say that on the nights she is at work, I miss her ice-cold little feet, pressed up against me. As rough as those lonely nights are, (I have to write that, in case she reads this. She gets knifey.) I have always been comforted by my ever-faithful C-PAP. It has always, ALWAYS there. It has been my nightly companion. Until last Friday night.
Now, there are some people who should sleep with a C-PAP, and they do so on most nights. If for whatever reason, they skip putting on that comforting mask of life, they will sleep relatively restful and with little snoring or other disturbances. Me? Well, I simply do not function without my C-PAP machine. Apparently.
Apparently, the cable to my machine grew faulty about a month ago and started to malfunction from time to time. This accounts for the times over the last month when I have awakened to the imagined hands of a tiny and weak night-strangler. Those malfunctions disturbed my sleep to the point that, over time, that lack of quality sleep was sapping me of physical and mental energy that I needed in order to function properly. That is the energy and focus that I needed to feed my creativity, and the effects of the lack of that energy built up exponentially over a month. The result was a steadily increasing lack of what was needed for me to be creative. The well was running dry as it evaporated into a mental fog. When the electrical cord on my C-PAP finally went full kaput and knocked out my machine for two and a half days, it put me down for the count. I was, for the most part, finished with sleeping from the middle of Friday night, until my wife went to the hospital early Monday morning and got me a new cord for my C-PAP. What a gal – you say? I guess. I’m pretty sure though, that she did that out of her own sense of self-preservation. She had to suffer through two and a half nights of my snoring and gulping from my lack of C-PAP oxygen which kept my ridiculous self breathing at night for a couple of decades. That electrical cord came just in time, too. I seriously do not think that I could have properly managed another night without a functioning C-PAP. Even now, after one night with my C-PAP bedfellow at my side, I still feel like Wednesday’s cabbage. It’s Tuesday as I write this.
As the great Norm MacDonald used to say in his charming Canadian accent, every time his hilarity went on so long that his audience grew uncomfortable: “Alright. I’m soorry”. I love the way he pronounced “sorry”
Let me sum up this writing by saying that the Physical is tied to the Mental is tied to the Creative. When my body was not being properly cared for, starting with the electrical cord issue, my creativity began to suffer. My desire to be creative suffered as well. I tried to fight through it, and in retrospect, I don’t think that was wise. If I had slowed down and taken the time to analyze what was going on, I may have figured out that my breathing machine was about to go down. Instead, I felt pressured by my viewers and listeners and their expectations of a certain frequency of content release, and I tried to push through, even as I was less productive. Instead of resting and accepting while analyzing what was happening, I was steadily less productive, less inspired, and less… ME.
Shame on me, but please don’t fret. I will be back at it with more radio and podcasting, and more desire to be creative. Hey, I wrote almost two thousand words, didn’t I? See, I’m on my way back to the ME that we all know and some of us love.
This will be a better night, and tomorrow will be a better day. Tonight, I’ll be sleeping with my beloved. My wife is working, so I’m talkin’ ‘bout my C-PAP, in case you don’t get it. “My beloved…”. Get it? Alright. I’m soorry. I’m soorry.