Things change…

Things change. Life is a becoming. What happens has consequences. It’s natural. The big changes in life, those that leave a mark, that cause the greatest stress and therefore require a greater readjustment of a person’s life, come sooner or later for everyone: bereavements, changes or loss of jobs, relocations, marriages and separations, births of children. They are both positive and negative stress. You are no longer the same when you become a parent, nor when you lose a loved one. As far as my life is concerned, the most beautiful and intense positive stress was the birth of my son: I discovered that you can’t describe how you feel, you only understand it when it happens to you; the feeling I describe to those who ask me is that I felt finally “complete”. So far the worst negative stress that has happened to me has been the loss of my job.

Two things made it heavier than it normally is: the struggle and sacrifices I made to get to the job I dreamed of and the critical age at which I lost it, shortly after I was 50. It was like being in no man’s land, too young to retire, too old to be hired again.

When the biggest positive stress came, the baby, I was a geologist at a small hydrocarbon exploration company and practiced Aikido, the Japanese art of harmony with life energy. After my family, Aikido was everything to me. I often talked about it and wrote a lot about it to give vent to my passion. I started teaching it because my passion encouraged me to spread it to others. I travelled to train with my favorite teachers, I spent money but for a good cause: it was clear how beneficial Aikido was for me, physically and psychologically.

I discovered Aikido late, after the age of 36, during the turning point in my career. After years and years of insistence I had finally found my dream job and was a researcher at the university. The troubled path towards this achievement had begun to leave its mark. My body and my mind showed the first reactions to something that didn’t work, that didn’t go well. When you find yourself in these situations, you look for something to help you get out of them. If the science I loved recommended drugs, I preferred to betray it and look for alternatives. After a series of experiments, Aikido, to my surprise, seemed to be the most ideal solution. I thought I had discovered my true essence and that although I had discovered it later in life, Aikido was my ideal of physical and mental practice: I stopped other sports such as tennis and five-a-side football, left the electric guitar almost always in the case and invested my energy in the practice and teaching of Aikido.

Those were happy years because after some time I met the one who would become my wife, I took a short job in the United States where she joined me and we started our story in New York, like in a movie. We got married there a few years later. We shared a passion for martial arts. We traveled to Aikido for training, then she lost interest. In her case, the big change of becoming a mother had a big impact on martial arts practice. But then the economic crisis hit us too and I became part of the legions of people who lost their jobs. The hydrocarbon company went bankrupt. There was nothing to do, other companies were cutting jobs or closing down too. There was no hope of staying in the business, neither in Italy, nor abroad.

It was a hard blow. I was earning very well. The unemployment benefit was half my salary and decreased over time. I accumulated debts and our families helped us financially. Traveling for Aikido was no longer possible. In addition, the first signs of physical failure appeared: first hypertension, then arhythmia. Nothing serious, but it was not easy to resign oneself to taking heart medication. The dark period was maybe behind us. But it left its mark.

After a series of events, my interest and involvement in Aikido and its world began to wane. Also due to an overwhelming return of my original passion: the electric guitar.

I discovered guitar when I was 11. I used to sing the songs I’d heard on the radio since before I was in grade school. I had learned the guitar all by myself, and it was everything to me. I played it every day without fail, I carried it around with friends, on the beach, in the parks. The most beautiful gift I ever received in my life was the one for my 16th birthday: the first electric guitar. I couldn’t tear myself away from it and I remember that summer day vividly.

A few months before the date of my lay-off, I had been invited to join a band that rehearsed in the evenings in a riding stable near where we had recently moved, in the countryside, to save on rent. I replied that I didn’t have time, with my Aikido course and some weekends busy with seminars, it was already too much for a father. But then my wife pushed me to go. It was overwhelming.

Slowly but surely, I rediscovered certain feelings as the date of my first rehearsal approached. I dusted off my electric guitar, rusted through some riffs, tried to learn the new ones I was going to have to face and rediscovered the pleasure of studying the tunes, of understanding how to reconstruct certain sounds. Everything was coming back to me, like a hurricane, an avalanche of irresistible sensations. When in the past years I would hear someone playing live or see a group of amateurs performing on stage, I would stop and look at them and think to myself that I would have liked to have had that experience. I tried to imagine myself playing in place of the guitarists I saw playing and I envied them a little bit. Sometimes I found myself imagining me performing Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb guitar solo in front of a small audience in a club or outdoors, maybe with friends, family and colleagues. I was saying to myself, it’s gone, it’s something you do when you’re young. In particular I remember  cousin of mine, a drummer with whom I played some jam sessions, who had a soul band and did several gigs. He started after me, he’s younger. And he had surpassed me: I’d never got to do gigs before. At a certain age, he dropped everything, tired of rehearsals, gigs and stuff. When I thought about him, music seemed like something from another life. Now I was fretting with anticipation. And when I finally went to rehearse with the band that invited me, we wondered what to start with: some suggested …Comfortably Numb! Unbelievable…

It’s been 4 years and we still play together. The band has changed a bit, some went and some came. There are four of us left and we’re pretty close. We have performed in the streets and in clubs. I have played several times Comfortably Numb, it is the piece with which we close, in apotheosis, our shows. It still gives me the shivers today.

Things change, the strong “blow” of losing my job has left its mark. I’m not what I used to be. That part of me that discovered Aikido is gone. It took me a long time to admit it, after almost 20 years of practice. I also think that people who practice and teach martial arts have been doing it since they were little or at least young. I started when I was 36 and a half! I’ve been playing guitar since middle school! Music has always been with me since I started talking. It’s in my nature. In a time of crisis, different from the recent one, I needed something to dismantle my foundations and then rebuild them. It happened. A new man was born who became a family man, successful in his job. Then it all collapsed again. This time I needed a safe haven, certainty, something to go back to my roots. Playing the guitar, more seriously than when I was young, helped me not to lose my head, to still feel able to do something good when everything seemed lost. Staying in touch with one’s truest being is essential in these moments. I was very lucky to meet my friends with whom I play. I kept my peace of mind and moved on. They even pay us a little something when we perform.

I have found myself again. The great stress of being fired at 50 left marks, I always take those heart medication and I’ve changed. I’m no longer the geologist who practiced Aikido. That time has passed. I am a computer guy who plays the guitar. It was nice but it all collapsed on me and I couldn’t do anything about it but try not to stay under the rubble. Others lost their families like that. I have to give my wife credit for staying with me even though our standard of living was wiped out all of a sudden. Not many spouses would have done that. But I must say I also worked in a factory to try to make ends meet. Just as she got nervous years ago about seeing me “distracted” from my father’s duties because of Aikido training, today she does it because of band practice. But in the end she’s always happy to see me play. She sees how good it does me just as she saw it with Aikido. And that’s good, because I have no intention of quitting…