Musings: A New Year, and a New Start

Saturday, January 30, 2021


Happy New Year, all. Hope 2021 finds you well. Let's hope it's the polar opposite of last year.

Like many of us, I feel as though my life has been on hold since last year. In my case, if I'm honest, it goes back well before the pandemic hit, for several reasons.

I'm trying to work out what to do about this rut, and how to get out of it. I realized this week that one thing has helped me in the past: writing about how I'm feeling, in one form or another. So that's what I'm going to try to do much more often this year with this blog.

I'm not sure if I've written about this previously, but there is one instance in my past where putting pen to paper was the key to moving forward in my life. Even if I have, I feel the need to retell it for myself. Interested? Follow along below the fold for more. 


I was in what I now recognize as one of the darkest, if not the darkest, chapters of my life. 

I was in my late twenties and had been unemployed for over a year. The economy was in a protracted recession; I'd had no luck whatsoever in my job search. 

The Boston area was having one of it's worst, most relentless winters in history. We received over 100 inches of snow, well over double the annual average, with one storm after another in an endless succession from mid-December through the end of March. It was also one of the coldest winters on record. My memory of that time is constantly shoveling for hours on end, then getting up the next day and having to do it all over again.

I was living alone, working for minimum wage at an office job that was just awful. Not the people; my co-workers were all very nice. It was the overall chaotic atmosphere - there's that word again - that took its toll. 

Without going into details, my family life was chaotic at this point as well. It didn't involve me directly, but the fallout from it certainly did. The only saving grace was my nephew C, who had been born the previous summer. But in all other respects that area of my life offered no comfort. The opposite, in many ways, really.

I went through each day in what I can only describe as a fog. It was particularly severe in the mornings, but even in the afternoon and evening it was ever-present. I lost 30 lbs that I absolutely could not afford to lose. I would eat one meal a day, if that, because my stomach wouldn't tolerate more. In fact, I would be sick to my stomach every afternoon at 3:00, like clockwork. 

Every. Single. Day. 

The first therapist I saw (with the assistance of my dear, much-missed friend R) told me this was an episode of, in her words, "severe, severe depression" (a term that therapists typically do not use, I now know), and that I was very fortunate to have survived it.

What's remarkable is that to a casual observer nothing was wrong. I would engage in the office chit-chat  and joke with my colleagues as I normally would. But the entire time I wanted to crawl under my desk, curl up into a ball, and hide. But I never did. 

Three days a week I worked as a janitor at a local grammar school, a job I shared with my father. I didn't know it yet, but I had a severe allergy to dust (among many other things); dry-mopping a five-story brick building with tiled floors and slate stairs was basically the worst possible thing I could be doing. But I had no choice. The pittance that I made was essential.

When I got home each night, I was utterly drained. I would collapse on the couch and sit in the dark, alone, with no lights on in the house, for hours and hours. My mind went to some very, very dark places during those lonely hours. To this day, even after years and years of therapy, I still find it too painful to think about.

This went on for months and months, starting in autumn. In February or March, I finally reached bottom.

It was a Friday evening. My family had gathered at my parents house for dinner. My sister C, my nephew C, my parents' son F, as well as a number of aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

We were in the dining room, and everyone was having dessert. I abstained; I had no appetite. I hadn't eaten dinner either, but I escaped notice; I always did.

This evening, for some reason, the fog was even worse than usual. Perhaps because it was the end of a long week, and I had come to the house directly from working at the school. Regardless, I can only describe the feeling as if I was under water, watching everyone else. 

Towards the end of the evening, my nephew C, who would have been about seven or eight months old at this point, was sitting in my father's lap. Something my father was doing - I can't remember what - was making C laugh hysterically every single time. Everyone at the table was laughing too. Of course they were; is there a more joyous sound in the world than a baby's laughter? 

And I felt... nothing.

I distinctly remember looking around at everyone else watching my father and C, with huge smiles and delighted expressions.

They're all laughing, I remember thinking. This must be funny. You should try to laugh too.

And I did, as best I could. Again, no one really noticed. It was a good thing; the reaction would not have been sympathetic or understanding, I suspect.

Perhaps it was because it involved my nephew. Even at that young age, we were close. He loved to play with me, and I did my best to give him my undivided attention. Maybe it was because I knew he needed it. Regardless, something about this moment cut through the fog, and I had a moment of clarity.

A tinge of fear - terror, really - struck my spine. It was only for an instant. But I felt it. I pushed it away because I couldn't process what it was in that moment.

On my drive home, however, through the fog, a realization hit me.

Something is wrong, I remember thinking. Profoundly wrong.

You can't keep feeling like this.

You can't keep going like this.

You have to do something.

Anything.

And you have to do it now.

There was an unacknowledged Or else there as well. 

I couldn't acknowledge it, not consciously. But it was there.

I knew instinctively that I had to find something - to do something - to pull myself up. 

But what?

***

When I got home, I collapsed on the couch and turned on the Red Sox exhibition game, mostly for the familiar, comforting rhythms of the game.

My eyes drifted over to the bookcase. An entire shelf was devoted to my Peanuts books. Another contained other favorite cartoons: Calvin & Hobbes. For Better of For Worse. Doonesbury. 

I sat upright.

That's it, I thought. 

I'm going to draw my own comic strip. And I'm going to submit it to the newspaper syndicates.

I don't know what prompted this; I loved to draw, particularly cartoons, but it had never occurred to me to try to create one myself.

But I knew in an instant that this was something I had to do.
 
I knew absolutely nothing about how to actually do it: from finding characters to developing storylines to the actual mechanics of drawing a comic strip - the correct format, the right materials to use, and much more.

I was starting from scratch. And looking back, I think unconsciously grasped that I needed something like this. 

To give myself a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning.

To learn something new.

To challenge myself.

To do something I could be proud of.

To survive.

***

I think I'm going to stop here. Like that winter evening all those years ago, I've realized in the past few days that I'm at another crossroads. 

I spent seven years of my life determined to finally, at long last, be myself. And in spite of a number of challenges, I did it. I had my GCS three-plus years ago. It was the hardest thing I ever did, and the best thing. I'm incredibly proud of what I accomplished.

However, I feel as if my life has stalled since then, for reasons I'm not totally sure about. Not yet, anyway.

I'm still at the same job, at the same company, with the same colleagues (for the most part). I like the people I work with, which helps a great deal. And my manager is a genuinely kind, caring person, well above and beyond what her position calls for. I do not take these things for granted.

But my life feels as if it's been on hold in the three-plus years since my surgery. And not just in terms of my job/career, even though I'm good at what I do and still derive satisfaction from it.

The malaise extends to other areas of my life. I know it. I've made several attempts to get out of this rut, devoting a great deal of time and energy to it. 

And yet here I am.

So... what do I do now?

Well... I don't know, exactly. I don't have it all worked out.

And that's OK.

What I do know is that I'm going to use this blog in some fashion to figure it out.

It's been dormant, for all intents and purposes, for five years. (I can tell as I write this; my writing feels disjointed and a bit clunky.) 

But today - this afternoon, in fact - something told me that this blog is going to play a part in figuring out how I move forward, much like I knew I had to create a comic strip back then.

My hope is to write MUCH more frequently than I have the past five years. Much of it, I'm guessing, won't be of interest to anyone but myself. Navel-gazing seldom is. :c) But anyone who wants to share the ride is more than welcome to hop aboard.

I know I have to start somewhere.

And so... it begins.

Can't wait to see where it takes me.

See you again, I hope. 

Soon.

***

Several songs popped into my head while I was working on this post today. I've shared some of them in previous posts, but hey, it's my blog, so I get to pick the soundtrack, right? ;c)

I'll start with a cover version. The best covers make you hear a familiar song in an entirely new way. (John Wesley Harding's remarkable - and  surprisingly moving - reinterpretation of Madonna's "Like A Prayer" is the example I always think of first. Do check it out; you won't regret it.) 

Another example is Mary Chapin Carpenter's brilliant re-imagining of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark." I first saw her play this live, much like this clip:


She perfectly captures the melancholy and quiet desperation of the lyrics, which are overshadowed in Springsteen's original version by the arrangement. 

He wrote it at the end of the two-year-plus recording sessions for 1984's Born In The U.S.A., angered by his manager's assertion that the album wasn't complete and needed another song. He went home, furious, and sat down on his bed wit his guitar. He began with "I get up in the morning," then caught himself, because he gets up in the evening. And with that, he was off and running:

I get up in the evening
And I ain't got nothin' to say
I come him in the morning
And go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothin' but tired
Man, I'm just tired and bored myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

You can't start a fire
Can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark

Springsteen was never happy with the synthesizer-dominated sound of the original, by all accounts, in spite of it being a massive hit. When he toured behind his 2002 album The Rising, however, the song featured a reworked arrangement that turned it into the guitar-driven take he always wanted. It's still upbeat, but I've always preferred this version to his original.


Next up is a song I know I've shared before in a previous post. It belongs in this post as well, given its message of comfort and quiet, determined optimism: George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," from his 1970 magnum opus of the same name:

  

Here's his demo version, recorded during the sessions for Let It Be:


Finally, two other songs I've shared before, from two of my favorite Canadian artists. It's probably clear to regular readers of this blog (if such a thing exists, that is) that Canada holds a special place in my heart. Why? I'm not really sure. But it does, and always has. I plan to explore this fascination in future posts. But for now,  I'll just share these songs. 

First up - Bruce Cockburn's "Waiting For A Miracle." His guitar solo is a barn-burner, even by his standards:


Next, and finally, is a classic from Toronto's finest, Blue Rodeo. This is the title track to their 1992 album, Lost Together:


 They close every show with this. I can't imagine a better choice.

Until the next time, stay safe, and have a good week. See you shortly...

3 comments:

Deanna on January 31, 2021 at 10:25 AM said...

Listening to Greg and the band brings back lovely memories.
Yes, write, dear Cass ... that process is therapy without the pressure. Reading our thoughts back and reorganizing them to publish is advanced mindfulness - keeping us in the moment while we write - allowing us to precess the feelings more completely. The freedom to share or not is akin to being able to let go.
That, along with good chats with those who hold you in a very special place can make such a difference.

Looking forward to the next instalment.

Calie on January 31, 2021 at 2:33 PM said...

So nice to see you write a blog post Cass (yeah, I know, glass houses).

Seeing those dark thoughts, from your past, while listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter, reminded me so much of some of my own dark times.

It's been a horrible year, eh? I'm guessing you haven't been in the office much at all so you, like so many, have been missing out on the social interaction. In addition, it's winter in Boston, which I know so well, and that can get you down. I'm hoping that Covid19 becomes a thing of the past within a few months and that, along with the wonder warming months of spring in Boston, will make things better.

Calie xxx

Cassidy on January 31, 2021 at 7:34 PM said...

@Deanna: "Therapy without the pressure"... I never thought of it that way! :c) It *definitely* helps me process things I wouldn't be able to otherwise, or at least not as quickly. So often I've found that just starting is the key. Once I do, for whatever reason, things start to move. Here's hoping that continues!

And yes, lots of great Blue Rodeo memories - hopefully with more to come sooner rather than later! (BTW, Greg is supposed to have an album out sometime in the next month or two, I believe.) :c) xoxoxo

@Calie: I was a bit shocked when I looked at my blog and saw how little I've published the last 3-4 years. That needs to change, and it will.

This blog was crucial in helping me with my transition, and with other matters I needed to work on (even if I didn't really know that until I started writing). And as I mention in the post, my instincts tell me I'm at a similar crossroads to the one described in the post, and have been there even before the pandemic. Hopefully future posts will help me with why that is, and what to do to move forward.

Of course, there's a difference this time: I'll be doing this as myself. And that makes *all* the difference. Even when I'm having a difficult time, I can look in the mirror and remember how far I've come from the beginnng of my transition to now. I did that, even in the face of some major obstacles; I can do anything. And hopefully in the coming months this blog will help me figure out what that is, and how to do it. Can't wait to share it with you and everyone else. :c)

Mary Chapin Carpenter is amazing. Her most recent album might be her best, which is remarkable, given her catalog. She did a solo streaming show from Wolf Trap a few weeks before Christmas; watching her play one great song after another for two-plus hours (and mostly staying away from the hits) was inspiring. MCC rocks. :c)

Hope all is well with you, Calie. I would love for us to connect again; it's been far too long. Let's make it happen!!! :c) Meanwhile, take care, and stay safe! xoxoxo

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