Saturday, September 24, 2022

Dean Williams (1977 - 2022)

Dean Williams died in July of this year. He was 45 years old. His family and friends are hosting a celebration of life for him today. I wanted to acknowledge him here.

Dean Williams
I met Dean back in the 90s. Dean was a member of Chill Productions, one of the first internet music labels. Dean's music made a strong impression. His music covered a lot of ground, with compositions going from ambient to more danceable tracks, and the occasional vocal track, always with a dollop of weird and the occasional bit of silly.

After I joined Chill, I got to know him as a person online. I found him hilarious and insightful, with great taste in music.

Dean traveled to San Francisco several times to see his friends and the odd bit of business. I was lucky to get to hang out with him in person several times. 

He was even more charming, kind, and funny in the flesh than he was online. 

Those are words you will hear Dean's many friends use repeatedly when describing him. Charming. Kind. Funny. Creative. He was all of those things, effortlessly so. The sort of person I wished was my best friend.

He was the best friend of someone else I know. They met as teenagers, made records together, performed together, and supported each other through many of life's ups and downs as they entered middle age. I could also see Dean's impact through 

Dean was also an entrepreneur, starting his own business and building it up to more than 50 people over several years. He managed that while being a father and continuing to create music.

His sudden, unexpected death hit me surprisingly hard. I wish I could say Dean and I were closer. We were friends. It is difficult to believe someone so joyous and full of life is gone. His passing has opened a kind of tunnel or connection to all of the other losses of the last few years, if not decades. Looking at his photograph and hearing his music is making me tear up as I write this.

My heart goes out to Dean's family and closer friends.

Dean's song "(Kurtis It's) Christmas" has been a holiday favorite ever since I heard it. This year, if I can bring myself to play it, I suspect it will be a little less joyous.

Thank you for your wit, heart, and creativity, Dean. The world was better with you in it.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

53 (and change)

This year, when my birthday rolled around, I opted not to write on the day itself. I re-read last year's post. I thought about simply writing "yes, and more so", but that seems like a cop-out. Even as therapy is helping me be kinder to myself, I still have my standards. 53 and change looks OK so far.

My hair is longer still, but is long enough now. My level of fitness remains constant. The runs have been more difficult this year, but I have also managed to avoid overuse injuries so far. I have added a few new exercises here and there. 

The aforementioned therapy has also been beneficial. At my age, I am able to appreciate those who choose caring for others as a profession in a way I did not when I was younger. I am also getting a little better at allowing myself to be taken care of, to be vulnerable, human, and imperfect. It is uncomfortable at times, but is ultimately less painful than continuing to carry all that armor around.

Anu Kirk, 2022. Photo by Lauren Tabak.

My days and weeks remain consistent, with some iteration and evolution. A new espresso machine is making the best coffee I've ever had. I am still spending lots of time talking to friends, but focused more on depth than breadth. I'm watching different shows at night, having burned through whatever I was watching last week, month, and year. I still think I should be reading more, but I am also reading all day long, though it is mostly computer garbage.

I have continued to do the Music, Mindfulness, and Madness podcast. I look forward to my weekly conversations with Dee and Michael, and writing the occasional essay for them as well. That experience has been a gift, and started me thinking about some new projects.

When I look out my window, I see the world has decided it would rather risk getting COVID than continuing to stay shut down, for better or worse. Life remains unpredictable and precarious. Environmental news is mostly bad, with some cause for optimism. American politics is the same. Ukraine has not fallen to Russia. An earthquake just shook the house as I write this.

Some companies are trying to drag people back to the office. The specifics are still to be determined, but I expect after a few big outbreaks (and perhaps lawsuits) that may again change.

At 53, I can appreciate how complicated things are, and how people in the world are often just trying to get by, making decisions that are OK at the time, and perhaps not great in retrospect. I am trying to be less judgmental about all of it, and simply experience and accept things. To be, and be without an expectation of having to act, or react as much. 

The vaccines and care mean getting Covid seems to have become more of a nuisance than anything else (with a few unfortunate exceptions, and the ongoing, unknown risks of long Covid). Many of my friends have had it at least once. I am still careful, and have managed to avoid it so far.

I have even taken some trips in the last 12 months. While air travel is more uncomfortable and unpleasant than ever, it was refreshing to get out of my room, my house, my routine, if just for a few days. Reconnecting with people was well worth the risk and inconvenience.

On one of those trips, I went back to what is now called "the DMV". I spent a few hours driving past houses I used to live in, schools I used to attend, and towns and streets that were my home. I wasn't sure why I wanted to do it, but I felt compelled. The swampy DC summer meant that being outside even briefly was punishing, and the traffic was terrible. 

I marveled at how it all could simultaneously change so much and so little. As I reached each destination on my journey, I experienced a profound sense of closure, of things being put to rest. It has been a long time since I lived there. I am able to recognize how these places, the people I knew there and then, and the things that happened helped shape me into the person I am at 53, but I am also able to look at all of it with context and distance.

I have been practicing guitar more than I have in a long time, and I find my tangible (if modest) progress satisfying. I am still taking voice lessons, and learning to sing in a different, more sustainable way. As my live band remains idle, I have taken to doing more self-accompanied performances online, and have never been more comfortable simply playing a song for someone accompanied by just a guitar or keyboard and my voice. Beyond the basic mechanics of playing and singing being easier, I feel I am more capable of conveying emotion and feeling.

That feels like progress in many ways.