So far, 2019 is not going entirely as expected. Or, rather, at all like any reality I could have imagined. On New Year’s Eve, I went hiking in the mountains above my house. I’d been obsessed with finding this point called Cape of Good Hope (at 3,458 ft in the San Gabriels), and the turn of the year seemed like a symbolic time to do so.
When I got home, I realised something was wrong with my left eye. I’d been having some funny symptoms (flashes of light, and a vague sense that I couldn’t quite see even though I could), but I’d gotten it checked a few months before and was assured my retina looked fine. Now lights out of the top of my vision were appearing red. I called the Kaiser nurse line and was told it didn’t sound urgent, but to get it checked when I could. Theyyyy were wrong. On the 2nd it was confirmed, indeed, my retina had detached. On the 4th, I went in for surgery. They lasered the tear in my retina, and inserted a gas bubble into my eye. For two weeks I had to stay face down - day and night - to ensure the best results of the bubble pushing my retina back into place. Over the course of the next 9 weeks, the bubble shrank and eventually dissipated. I documented what I was seeing both with my eye closed and open, at first simply because it was impossible to explain, and then because it was a great outlet for my anxiety. Here are the 32 drawings I did over those 9 weeks:
My eye still can’t focus up close to read, lines are curved, and everything is slightly warped. I’m told it will get better slowly, over the next year or two. In the meanwhile, I’ve been working on new songs (though somehow my falsetto still hasn’t recovered entirely from the virus that stole my voice back in November). We even did a house gig in February, for which I bedazzled an eye patch. If you’re gonna rock half-blind, you may as well do so in style.
Finally, after 3 months, I’ve been cleared with no restrictions, have resumed commuting to my job instead of working from home (I could do without that one), and am able to be back out in the world. Toward the end of last year, I booked a trip to Austin to see Snow Patrol. Not like I ever need much of an excuse to go to concerts, but a group of new friends I’d met at their October show in Kansas City had planned to gather, and who can say no to community? My doctor had told me I was good to go, but of course I was hesitant. If it’s already happened once, this shit can happen again at any moment. Some people have multiple surgeries and eventually lose their sight anyway. I’m trying not to think about that, and put only healing vibes out into the (indifferent) universe. It’s been a difficult adjustment after months of hibernation, but in the end, I made it to Austin.
From the first note played, I was alive and at home, grateful and full of wonder. I’ve liked Snow Patrol since hearing “Run” on Aer Lingus radio in 2004, and was won over by their performance opening for U2 at Croke Park in Dublin in 2005. I’ve seen them numerous times, and Fallen Empires was momentous for me (seriously, if you’ve never heard “The Symphony,” go listen to that shit right now), but it was 2018’s Wildness and singer Gary Lightbody’s honesty and openness around mental health and addiction that elevated their status to one of the more important bands in my life. Being blasted by their beauty with all my new pals from around the country after being a whole lot of nowhere since January felt like a dream. Music heals.
After the gig, my friends and I waited to see if we could talk to the lads. Gary in particular is super generous with his time and energy, and makes the effort to greet fans as often as he can. Pam and I first met him a year ago on their Wildness promo stop in L.A. Pam, in passing, had mentioned that we were in a band, saying the show had stirred in her some sorely-needed inspiration. He zeroed in on this and asked us if he could hear our music anywhere, promising he would listen via Spotify on his way home. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. But he surprised me again last fall when he asked how the band was doing. I didn’t think for a second he’d even remember me, much less anything about me. In Austin he asked again, this time saying he’d listened to our music “a bunch,” and that he loved it. I was floored. I cracked to my friends afterward that I can’t even get people I actually know to listen to us!
Glen Hansard talks often about sharing the light when you’re in it, using the attention focused on you to showcase others who have talent to offer. But I think of the light that these guys share as being more than limelight. Supporting artists can be vital to them continuing to create. When that support comes from another artist, it carries even more weight. So, Gary, thank you. Universe, thank you. There’s nothing like feeling like maybe the world’s forgotten you and then emerging, blinking in the too-bright sunlight, to find, amazingly, its arms are open.