Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflected in your eyes

Brian and Susan, December 2009

I met Brian in music camp, when I was 16 and he was 17. We both ended up at Indiana University and stayed in frequent touch after graduation, seeing each other through various crises.

For one reason or another, we mostly lost contact around the mid-'90s. I thought about him every now and again, telling myself I should try to find him.

Eventually he found me. He was going to be in Phoenix over Christmas. Would I be around? If yes, he'd drive the two or so hours to Tucson and we could catch up.

I was. We did.

Seeing Brian was something. As we filled each other in on the intervening 15 years, it felt as if we'd last hung out a week ago. He hadn't changed at all, except to become a more fully realized, confident version of himself.

The strange part, though, was the feeling that I hadn't changed.

After leaving graduate school and settling into what I'd consider my real, adult life, I'd faced unforeseen challenges. Challenges I failed again and again to overcome. By December 2009, when I reconnected with Brian, failure had inserted itself into my DNA. I'd gotten used to seeing myself as somebody less, somebody who always fell short.

But Brian saw the same person he knew in 1994. He liked me for who I am, not what I do or how well I do it.

I think I'd forgotten there was a difference.

Brian left town shortly after that visit, but the experience stayed with me. I finished the song it inspired a year ago today. It's called "Ten Years Later" because "Fifteen Years Later" didn't scan.

This little live-in-Ron's-living-room scratch recording goes out to Brian, and to all the other friends who've stuck by me through the years. Here I am, reflected in your eyes.

Ten Years Later

lyrics by Susan Wenger
music by Susan Wenger and Ron Amistadi


Heading home
Driving slow
Changing stations on the radio
Trying to find a song that understands me

Take in the scene
With fresher eyes
Oh, I've got every street sign memorized
And still I feel somehow I've lost my way

Once I stood before your camera
Gave a smile, struck a pose
Facing fearlessly the future
As the past drew to a close
But the choices that I made
Were not the ones I thought I chose


You called me up
Blew into town
It's been ten years since I've seen you around
And seeing you makes ten years feel like nothing

I filled you in
You reminisced
About a person who does not exist
But there I am reflected in your eyes

Once I stood before your camera
Gave a smile, struck a pose
Facing fearlessly the future
As the past drew to a close
But the choices that I made
Were not the ones I thought I chose


Heading home
Still I find
Our conversation looping through my mind
What I forgot and what I must remember

Find a groove
Or go astray
It will not matter to you either way
For we are more than just the roads we take

And I'll stand before your camera
Give a smile, strike a pose
Facing fearlessly the future
As the past draws to a close
And the choices that I'm making now
Well no one ever knows

Copyright 2010 Cinder Bridge. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spinal fluid, proteins, and differential diagnosis

New ME/CFS study! From The Washington Post:
The new study analyzed spinal fluid from 25 of those chronic Lyme patients, 43 people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and 11 healthy people. Using a special high-powered technology, researchers detected more than 2,500 proteins in each group.

More important, they found clear sets of proteins - hundreds each - unique to each disease, said Dr. Steven Schutzer of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, who led the work.

In other words, if this study pans out, doctors will have an easy way to tell whether a patient has ME/CFS, Lyme, or neither of those diseases.

That's a big deal. ME/CFS shares a bunch of symptoms with chronic Lyme disease, leading physicians to frequently misdiagnose one for the other. Unfortunately, the treatment differs. People with chronic Lyme may benefit from industrial-strength antibiotics. However, said antibiotics can have nasty side-effects, so you really don't want to take them unless you actually do have Lyme.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I became an ME/CFS advocate

Many years ago, it occurred to me to wonder how celebrities choose their causes. If I were famous, I'd want to use my fame to make positive changes in the world—of course I would—but how to prioritize?

AIDS was the big issue in those days. AIDS would be a great option. But was AIDS more important than child abuse? Was child abuse more important than people starving to death in third-world countries? What about political prisoners? How about Alzheimer's disease?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that the cause probably chooses you. Your sister or your best friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, and you make it your mission to raise funding for a cure so your sister or your best friend survives, and nobody else has to go through what she's going through.

The personal connection is a big part of how I got into advocacy for ME/CFS. Someone important to me had this disease. I wanted him not to. Pretty simple.

Pretty simple, but not the whole story.

* * *

The other day, a friend of mine e-mailed me a link to an article about ME/CFS research. An excerpt:

Patients struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome may be helped the most when standard treatment is coupled with cognitive behavior therapy or exercise therapy, new British research suggests.

The apparent promise of cognitive behavior therapy and "graded exercise therapy" offers considerable hope to patients combating the complex condition characterized by profound tiredness, impaired concentration, diminished memory, sleep difficulties and muscle and joint pain, the study authors said.

The findings also support the somewhat controversial notion that incremental adjustments in physical behavior and/or mental attitude can ultimately have a positive impact on the disorder, the authors said.

Full article here.

The friend who sent the link knew I was interested in ME/CFS and wanted to know what I thought. I wrote a fairly pointed response, explaining everything that was wrong with the study.

"What's the problem?" I hear you cry. "They found treatments that help ME/CFS patients. Isn't that a good thing?"

It would be, if they actually helped.

The truth is, there have been many such studies on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET). They are fatally flawed in the following ways:

1. The cohort problem

Myalgic encephalomyelitis is a neuroimmune disease characterized by chronic pain, crushing exhaustion, and post-exertional malaise (symptoms worsen with exertion, sometimes permanently). However, the definition for the disease called "chronic fatigue syndrome" has been broadened to include people who do not necessarily suffer from pain or post-exertional malaise—people who have some completely different disease that causes fatigue, or clinical depression.

So a study on this "chronic fatigue syndrome" patient population is going to have problems right out of the gate. It's like testing a hypothesis that chemotherapy can help diabetics, and including a bunch of subjects who have cancer instead of diabetes.

2. Sampling bias

Say you've got ME/CFS. You often have to decide whether to spend your tiny allotment of energy on a shower or making yourself something to eat. One day you hear about a study. If you become a subject, they'll require you to exercise. If you exercise, you won't have enough energy for the shower OR the food.

Do you participate?

Neither would I.

So it isn't simply that they've included subjects who don't have ME/CFS. They've actually set it up so that the real sufferers are less likely to be involved.

For more thoughts on the most recent CBT/GET nonsense, along with observations from a patient who participated, read CBT & GET: The Studies, the Science and the Pseudoscience.

* * *

Bogus studies like the one above? They are why I've become an ME/CFS advocate. For other medical causes, raising awareness means spreading accurate information. For denigrated diseases like ME/CFS, raising awareness means constantly fighting the entities doing their best to lower awareness. You have to explain over and over again how positive thinking doesn't help, exercise hurts, and the disease isn't just in people's heads.

The cause chose me.

The cause needs all the help it can get.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Cinder Bridge
Between songs at Saturday's Paws in the Plaza gig, one of the friends who came to see us walked over and said that a camera guy for KOLD 13 had shot footage of us for B-roll. He set up his tripod while we were doing our cover of "Run-Around," then recorded "Everybody Knows About Me" in its entirety.

I missed it. I was absorbed in the music, and the guy wasn't in my line of sight. But apparently he liked us. My friend nodded to him when the recording was done, and he smiled and gave my friend the thumbs up.

They used a tiny snippet of our footage for their 5:30 newscast. Though I didn't see it (I don't have TV), I'm told that my vocals and Ron's drums could juuust barely be heard under the voiceover.

SusanWe're famous!

OK, maybe not yet. But two things please me.

1. The camera guy liked us.
2. The camera guy didn't think I looked too dorky to film.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hold Me in Your Arms

I usually don't write love songs. Though I have nothing against them in principle, I tend to be drawn more to conflict in my own work. It's hard for me to do anything interesting with "You're awesome" or "romance is cool."

Besides, with a gazillion love songs out there, I doubt I have anything new to say.

Among my few exceptions is "Hold Me in Your Arms," which I wrote in 2008. It holds the record for my most quickly written tune. I was able to crank it out in less than 24 hours because it's very simple, with lots of repetition. I like it, but I haven't considered it my best work.

When we did Paws in the Plaza this Saturday, we put "Hold Me in Your Arms" on the set list for the first time in a long while. And the people who were listening liked it. They seemed to like us in general, but they really liked this one. You know you're in when your audience is swaying.

Maybe I need to get over the idea that complex, hard-to-write songs are superior. Sometimes people just want to hear nice and simple.

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, here's a little scratch recording of "Hold Me in Your Arms," made in Ron the Drummer's living room. If you absolutely hate Valentine's Day, give it a chance anyway. It's not too sappy and I promise it won't tell you to buy stuff.

Hold Me in Your Arms

lyrics by Susan Wenger
music by Susan Wenger and Ron Amistadi

Light is fading
Sun going down
Won't you hold me in your arms
Nothing between us
No one else around
Won't you hold me in your arms

Put down your battle plans
Put down your ammunition
They will be here waiting
At the coming of the dawn
The world outside is no more real
Than what I offer you tonight

Moment lingers
Ours alone to claim
Will you sing to me your song
A melody to cut through
All the noise and all the pain
Will you sing to me your song

I'll put down my strategies
And blueprints for the future
They will be here waiting
At the coming of the dawn
The world outside is no more real
Than what I want from you tonight

Why don't you hold me in your arms

Moonlight streaming
Through the window above
Won't you hold me in your arms
The struggles that define us
They can't kill the things we love
When you hold me in your arms

Pick up our lost dreams
And our visions for a brighter day
We will surely need them
At the coming of the dawn
These are the gifts we give each other
To sustain us through the night

Why don't you hold me in your arms
Why don't you hold me in your arms
Why don't you hold me in your arms
Why don't you hold me

Copyright 2010 Cinder Bridge. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Paws in the Plaza 2011

Gig tomorrow! Paws in the Plaza is an event to raise money for the Humane Society and to find some good homes for some good dogs.

Date & time: Saturday, February 12, 12:30(ish) to 2:30(ish) p.m.
Place: Casas Adobes Plaza (southwest corner of Oracle & Ina)
Directions: Go here
Cover: Free, but the Humane Society will take donations if you are so inclined

Despite worries about freezing my fingers off during last week's cold snap, the predicted high is 74. The dogs, the people walking them, and the people listening to us will be happy about that. So will we.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Substance abuse, part III

The bag of M&Ms in the bottom drawer was calling my name. I considered my schedule. In about an hour and a half I'd be leaving work for rehearsal. Chocolate would gunk up my throat.

Eh, the hell with it. It was a rehearsal, not a performance. I opened the bag and went to town.

The good news: Somehow I was spared the usual vocal effects. No coughing, no hacking. In fact, my throat was more well behaved than usual.

The bad news: I hadn't taken into account the non-singing effects of an M&M binge. Tonight's rehearsal found me a little wired. During the first few songs, I made weird mistakes I don't normally make, like singing the wrong syllables even though I knew exactly what sounds I was supposed to produce.

Y'know, I have to admire musicians who nurse serious addictions. If I can be derailed by a sugar rush, how on earth do people perform under the influence of drugs you can't buy in the candy aisle of the supermarket?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lady Who?

A friend of mine had an epiphany the other day: Cinder Bridge should cover "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga. We've successfully put our special Cinder Bridge spin on other songs outside our genre, so "Poker Face" would be right up our alley.

The idea seemed good in principle, but it was hard for me to judge. I had never heard Lady Gaga.

Oh, I'd heard OF her. I haven't been trapped in a bomb shelter for the past two years. I knew she was really really famous. I just couldn't identify any of her songs in a lineup. And from what I'd heard, I didn't think I was missing out.

* * *

Coming up in the '80s, one of the great disappointments of my life was discovering that the music of my generation sucked. Boomers got the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, the Stones, David Bowie. What did I get? The Gogos. Hall and Oates. Madonna.

So it's not like my dismissal of the trendy stuff is something that developed as I aged out of adolescence and early adulthood. I've always been at odds with it. The difference is in how distant it feels now. I mean, I may not have cared for early-'80s Madonna, but I knew Madonna. ("Holiday-eeee ... It would beeee sooooo nice") She was everywhere. I couldn't have gotten away from her if I tried, and I'm pretty sure I did try.

"Poker Face" was number one on the charts for months. I listen to the radio. How could I possibly have missed it?

* * *

At precisely 4 p.m. today, I queued up the "Poker Face" video on YouTube and lost my Gaga virginity.

I didn't like her. I didn't hate her. And about five minutes after listening, I couldn't have told you how the song went.

Am I as out of touch as I fear? Or are today's biggest hits just that forgettable?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pushing through

The temperature had dipped to around 30 degrees by the time I got to Ron's house. As we set up for rehearsal, Ron informed me that I should turn on my outdoor faucet when I got home. A constant drip would keep my poorly insulated Tucson pipes from freezing, or at least give them a fighting chance.

I hemmed and hawed. The idea of performing this responsible homeowner task made me nervous.

I don't like stumbling around in the dark, even with a flashlight.

What if I couldn't find the faucet? How lame would that be?

The neighbors dogs would bark at me really loudly from the other side of the fence while I stumbled around in the dark. Did I mention that I don't like stumbling around in the dark?

Ron was perplexed at my reaction. I stood to lose thousands of dollars if my pipes froze. What possible discomfort could be worse than that?

I couldn't explain it to him. I can't explain it to you. All I know is that certain mundane tasks inspire irrational fear in me. Others include ...
  • Paying bills
  • Tidying clutter
  • Pumping up my bicycle tires

After sucking it up and dealing with the faucet (which turned out to be easy even though it was dark and the dogs barked), something occurred to me. As a musician, I get up in front of live audiences and perform songs that I've written. I risk humiliation every time. Maybe I'll sound horrible. Maybe I'll forget the words. Maybe nobody will show up to the gig and we won't get hired back. If keeping down the clutter scares me, why doesn't that scare me?

I thought about it, and here's what I realized. It isn't that singing in public scares me less. I still get nervous sometimes. But I know that if I push through the fear—or better yet, harness its energy for a more passionate performance—I'll end up having a great time.

The fear is just another part of doing music, so I deal with it.

What fears do you overcome to do what you love?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


From down the hall, I could hear a coworker grumbling about the weather. I got a grin out of that. Yes, it was raining. Yes, the temperature had dropped considerably. But I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. As much as I prefer T-shirts to sweaters, I know better than to complain about a winter's day that only makes it down to 47 degrees.

If you complain about the cold in Tucson, Arizona, chances are you've lived here too long.

That said, I've been eyeing the forecasts warily. We've got a gig coming up on February 12, less than two weeks away, and it is outdoors.

I don't like playing when my fingers freeze.

Weather Underground predicts that it will get up to 59 by this Saturday. Fingers crossed for a continued upward trend.