Life is a journey. There are no guarantees. You might become a famous author or you might become a beggar on the streets of New York City. But there is one thing that will always help you to become a better artist, a better human being.
As I lay on a mattress on the floor of my new condominium in Maine because I have not bought anything more than mattresses for my daughter and myself, I contemplate life, art, education, the journey. My own past has been riddled with pain and heartache. When I was nine years old my parents moved our family 3000 miles from our Maine home to become part of a religious cult in Washington State. That change would forever shape the person I was and who I would become. The cult experience left me confused. I would struggle with fear and paranoia that was ultimately tied to the modern misdirected ideals of Christianity.
My strange childhood left me with another trait: determination. As a young forced laborer I would become a hard worker, very organized and disciplined. As a teenaged boy who resented being forced into labor, I became a rebel, determined to buck the system, to go against the norms of society. It’s this second trait that led me to playing rock and roll, writing poetry, and practicing minimalism.
Life was not easy for me in my 20s. Although I was freed from the prison of my past in a cult, I found myself struggling to discover who I really was. I experimented with drugs, drank too much alcohol, and found myself running from invisible demons that appeared very real at the time. The demons came in the form of the Christian story, its characters, God, the devil, and the curses that were repeatedly woven into the book that I thought would save me.
In my 30s I returned to education. At the time I believed it was the Christian story that saved me, turned my life around, got me clean from drugs and alcohol, and led me to the path that I would take for the next 30 years. In hindsight I realize it was something else: determination. If the Christian God of my youth helped me to change, glory be to him, but why then would that same God have allowed my youth to be so shattered by my parents’ poor decisions, Christian parents at that. It doesn’t add up.
Marriage was one of the worst things I ever decided upon in life. It’s my own fault really. I was quickly moving toward the age of 40 and society told me that getting married and having children was something I should have already done. Blind love led me to choosing a partner who brought much more trouble than happiness and contentment. I lost my firstborn daughter to genetic birth defects in 2001. My second daughter was born healthy in 2005, but by that time my marriage was failing due to the extreme mental health problems my ex-wife faced. All this would affect both my own journey and my second daughter’s journey.
For nearly 20 years I’ve found myself stuck in a single location where I never really chose to be. I stayed because the legal system told me to. I stayed so that my daughter might have a relationship with both my family and her mother’s family. I stayed because I had a good job that paid the bills and provided good benefits.
In 2010 my father died. It was shortly after his death that my story in the book, A Train Called Forgiveness, came about. That was not coincidence. It was determination. I’ve always been determined as an artist, musician, and writer to communicate my story with others, not because I believe my story is special, but rather because I know my story can help others. There is both hope and healing in the power of words and music. Art is both self-therapy and universal in scope.
This year, 2022, my mother died. My living daughter is 17 and struggling with issues that came from an abusive past with some members of her mother’s family. She’s found herself struggling with a substance-use disorder. Living in Yakima Washington, there was easy access to drugs, alcohol, and continual reminders of her own childhood trauma. There are gang-related shootings in Yakima on a regular schedule. I am determined to do what I can to help her out of that dark place. And so here we are in Maine, starting again.
Through it all my art has remained. I have stayed true to continuing to become a better writer, composer, and artist. I still have the determination to communicate through art, to help others on their own journeys through life. Whether it be through the solace of story and song or the meditative quality of ambient music, it’s my goal to bring peace and hope to others. It’s also my goal to attempt to help my daughter find the same kind of determination for her own life. And it’s my hope that this change of place will be a positive catalyst in her development.
If there is one trait that I could pass down to my daughter and to all who take the time to read my words and listen to my music, it’s determination. It’s my desire for you to find the determination to be who you are, not who the world tells you to be. I want you to accept what you cannot change and overcome the obstacles in life that you can. It’s my wish that you always find the determination to work hard, not so you might become rich or famous, but so that your life might shine the way for others who are hurting and healing in this broken world.
Determination. – dse