Featured

How to Leave

By Carl Atiya Swanson

As an artist, I think a lot about endings. As a writer, I want the right line to finish with, to leave the story with the right emotional impact. In theater, the experience is ephemeral and that memory after the ending is the point, the joy of it.

I think about endings because as 2018 draws to a close, I will be rolling off the Dissonance board of directors. Since our first conversations three years ago about taking a series of panel conversations into a nonprofit organization that brings people together to make and share resources to support the creative community, building Dissonance has been a profound and satisfying experience.

I often describe the work of Dissonance as being loud and open about smashing stigmas so that we get to have quiet and personal conversations.

In the first part of that equation, Dissonance has been a platform to share my own story of sobriety and recovery. In 2012, when the first Dissonance panels took place at McNally Smith College of Music, I was relatively new in recovery, and to see other artists sharing their own paths—and to connect with them through art—was inspiring.

Human connection is one of the keys to living a meaningful life and countering the isolation and separation that can feed addiction and mental illness. Being able to work with Dissonance has connected me to so many great colleagues and offered me so many opportunities to grow through sharing my own experiences publicly. I couldn’t be more grateful for the work, especially as we’ve been able to do this at a time when so many others – from the talented folks who make up the Dissonance community to celebrities like Kevin Love, Mariah Carey, and Pete Davidson – are sharing their own stories about mental health, addiction and wellness. When we name something, we make it manageable. We make it shareable. We put off the burden of having to carry things alone. Sharing stories publicly makes us more empathetic and compassionate, and we need all of that we can get in the world right now.

The second part of the Dissonance equation — getting to have quiet and personal conversations — has been one of the ongoing and tremendous joys of my experience on the board. So many people have reached out and shared their stories, or their needs — some at tremendous low points — and it has been an enormous privilege to be able to sit, talk on the phone, or text with each person, connecting in quiet support. Very little makes me as happy as hearing how people found a therapist in our Get Help Directory or seeing them share wellness milestones and anniversaries. The work of being well is everyday work, and it happens all around us.

Matt Rasmussen’s poem “Chekhov’s Gun” opens with the line “Nothing ever absolutely has to happen.” That’s been so true in my own recovery. Addiction makes demise feel inevitable. Ten years ago, when I was just coming out of rehab, the life I lead now was not unimaginable, because I had little framework for imagining it. But the day-to-day work, the support of many others, the opportunities to connect — these are the exercises that strengthen imagination, and that have helped build a life rich with meaning.

So in this ending, I need to thank those who have helped build all this meaning. The artists who have shared their talents at events and in conversation over the years, folks like David Campbell, Davina Sowers, Nora McInerny, Saymoukda Vongsay, Levi Weinhagen, Charlie Parr, Leah Ottman, MaLLy, Mark Mallman, Nicholas David, Caroline Smith, and everyone who has written for the blog, thank you for your brilliance and vulnerability. My fellow Dissonance board members past and present are so passionate and so talented, so to John Solomon, David Lewis, Haley Johnson, Kyle Frenette, Jen Gilhoi, Brian Zirngible, Katy Vernon, Ali Lozoff, Jeremiah Gardner and our fearless leader Sarah Souder Johnson, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

What’s in that list of names is also this truth — the work we do is driven by the people who show up to do it. If this work has resonance in your life, come, build the next steps of Dissonance. There are so many ways you can connect – write for the blog, make a donation on Give to the Max Day, volunteer for Unhappy Holidays on Dec. 20, talk to one of us about joining the Dissonance board.

In that sense, this isn’t an ending. I’m not really leaving, I’m just making some more space for myself and for others to shape the future. I hope it’s you who chooses to step up. What’s next?

Carl Atiya Swanson is a Dissonance Board Member.

Tips for Staying Healthy on the Road

Editor’s Note: Touring can be challenging for all artists, especially those with substance use or mental health concerns. On our Resources-Tools page, we are assembling wellness tips from and for artists who spend a good deal of time away from home. We kick off that effort here with ideas from musician John Solomon, and invite others to send us your tips, too.

By John Solomon

Hint #1: Routine, routine, routine. One thing that makes touring so stressful is the constant changes. No matter how hard you work beforehand to schedule a tour, the plans never seems to stick. The key is to find routine where you can. I focus on making my mornings identical. I wake up at the same time no matter what. I travel with my own coffee setup. I try to eat a mild breakfast and lunch at the same time each day. It seems inconvenient, or maybe a little boring, but in the long run, establishing a routine lowers the stress levels and gives you something familiar to hold on to in the middle of the tornado.

Hint #2: Exercise. Playing shows every night, riding in buses or vans for hours, and sleeping in new beds or moving vehicles every night punishes the body. Getting up and moving every day for your own sake will lessen a lot of that physical stress. I don't work out on the road like I do at home. I just work out to give myself some time to reset and get some fresh healthy feeling in my life in the midst of the chaos.

Hint #3: Consider what you are putting into your body all the time. I don't drink, but a lot of my bandmates do, and it's easy to lose track of days on the road when every night seems like a Saturday. Drinking, and eating pizza and fast food, probably won’t hurt you if done once in a while. But after the third day of tour, you'll stop remembering what day it is, and if you don't get in the habit of eating healthy and staying away from booze, then you might fall into unhealthy patterns without even realizing it. 

I know … establishing routines, exercising and eating healthy might seem like bummers compared to what you expect touring to be, but I like to remember that the tour will be exciting enough. The goal is to make it through with as many good vibes as when you started.

John Solomon is a singer, songwriter and guitar player for the acclaimed indie rock band Communist Daughter. He is also a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in addiction studies and a former board member and ongoing advisor for Dissonance.

* Banner image above by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash. Used with permission.
* Photo below, courtesy of Communist Daughter, shows John at a roadside stand in Georgia in 2015.

johnnyonroad.jpg

High on Life

By Dustin Tessier

I recently spent over a week in the mountains of western Montana. Now that I'm back home, the memories and impressions have been flooding my vision. Peace of mind can be hard to come by. But, as I look at this photograph, I am struck by the shift in perspective.

We climbed to the summit of RamsHorn. It was an exhausting slog up rough terrain. There were times I thought about stopping. Something kept me going, however. I don't know if I would call it inspiration, or maybe spirit. But, there was something incredibly freeing in the solitude of the climb. I found with each step, I was taken out of my own head. It was as though the pressure I put on myself to succeed, to be something, to shape how people see me as an artist, to matter—it all fell away like rotted tree bark.

The stillness of the thin air made my every labored breath echo deep in my head, and I was no longer addled with anxiety and worry. All that mattered in the moment was being present for the process. I was tasked with putting the next foot forward, and nothing more. The peace of mind was intoxicating, and I felt what it means to be human and connected again.

I was swallowed up in the vastness of it all.

Once atop the plateau, I tossed a shiny white stone, which I had carried since the start of the climb, over the edge. I think that stone was symbolic. It represented that which I have been clinging to. It represented my beautiful dreams. It was also metaphoric of the illusion of control, as my hand clenched around the rough stone, causing my fingers to cramp, my palm sweating onto the stone.

Releasing the stone, I felt the relief of letting go.

I don't know where the stone ended up. I don't know where I will end up. I don't know where my dreams will take me. I do know this: the journey matters. Being in the moment matters. Trusting in the process matters. So, I will continue moving forward. Along the way, I will remember to toss stones. I will remember to dream. I will climb the insurmountable. I will be present. I will trust. I will always remain open. I will create. I will love. The rest is up to the vast expansiveness.

Dustin Tessier is a Minneapolis-based guitarist, singer and composer, originally from Duluth, who records as Timbre Ghost and also performs with the Rolling Stoners, Mary Bue and others. His new Timbre Ghost album — Life, Death, & Disintegration — is due out Nov. 16, 2018. Dustin also is a person in long-term recovery and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Find him on social media at Bandcamp, Twitter and Facebook.

dustintessier_highonlife.jpg