All I Used To Be Will Pass Away And Then You’ll See

There was a time, not so long ago now, where I believed firmly that I didn’t get to be happy, per se. I could have moments of happiness, sure, and events or circumstances could make me happy, but long term, sustainable happiness as a baseline was an impossibility.

This, I suspect, would shock a lot of people who know me. I am, after all, a mostly upbeat, optimistic person who seems happy almost all the time. People have commented on that to me, more than once; that I appeared to be happy and upbeat no matter what was going on around (and to) me. So, if that’s how I presented to the world, the idea that I didn’t think that I “got” to be happy feels like a significant disconnect.

And yet.

The trick was that I just didn’t believe in optimism for me. The rest of the world deserved the best, I wholeheartedly and fervently thought, but not me. It was this strange, inexplicable (Well, almost) idea that I was special because I alone was a failure, a bad person, someone who didn’t amount to anything worthwhile deep down. I know some reasons why I thought this, and they’re no longer present in my day-to-day life, but where this attitude came from originally remains a mystery. That part’s important; because I couldn’t explain it entirely, I decided on some level that it just had to be true on a cosmic level.

My therapist, whom I adore for numerous reasons not least of which being her bluntness, repeatedly talks about the session where I told her that perhaps I “deserved” to be happy as the breakthrough session, the one where everything changed. And that might be true; it definitely happened during a time where a lot of my assumptions were being questioned for a number of reasons, changing how I thought about myself and how I fit into the world.

What followed my saying that was a reassessment of my life and who I was and who I wanted to be. A reassessment of priorities and a rediscovery of the importance of kindness and vulnerability and actually feeling things — that part, I’m still working on — and all the messiness surrounding it. At one point, I asked my therapist, “Is this just a midlife crisis? Am I just being a cliche?” and she said, basically, it’s not and even if it was, midlife crises aren’t automatically invalid in and of themselves.

Now, I feel like I… am happy…? It’s not permanent or complete because, well, shit happens and moods change as a result. But I’m happier, and that feels like something, considering that felt completely impossible just months ago. My therapist describes me as being “more buoyant,” and then laughs at how ridiculous the phrase sounds. Another reason why I appreciate her.

Hello Hello Hello

Last week, it was the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, something that took me by surprise — the anniversary, I mean, although it’s not as if I’d expected his death when it happened, either. Today is the anniversary of the discovery of his body; I’d never realized there was such a gap between death and discovery before.

As always happens in situations like this, the media was filled with reminiscences of where I was when I heard the news or how important Cobain was to me, to remind those who were there of how young and vital they used to feel, and to educate those who weren’t about who Kurt Cobain was.

I wasn’t really a Nirvana fan, although that was slowly changing when he died. Weirdly, I had a copy of In Utero, even though I didn’t own Nevermind, but beyond “Serve the Servants” and it’s ersatz Beatles riffing, I hadn’t listened that often. Nirvana felt part of the cultural conversation and I was curious, but not a believer, per se.

My main memory of Cobain’s death is, I suspect, a false one. Somehow, I remember myself in my hometown with a copy of the Melody Maker for that week, filled with tributes and memorials, reading through it and feeling a sadness not specifically about Cobain’s death but about not feeling the grief and loss as intently as others. I felt as if I was missing out, excluded from a moment that was momentous and important, purely because I didn’t get the music, or the band, in the “right” way.

Looking back now, I feel like Cobain’s death was in some way an early echo of Elliott Smith’s — that was the death that impacted me, that ripped my heart out and still saddens me deeply to this day. Maybe there’s only one musician whose death feels like a loss in your family for each person, and Cobain was too early for me. Maybe I was never a grunge fan. Or perhaps I was simply an outsider to the outsider genre.

I still read the thinkpieces and op-eds this month. It’s just that they remembered a time I was there for, but never really a part of.

Make It Not Work

I’ve become, quite accidentally, a devotee of reality television as self-care in recent weeks. I’d always been a fan of things like Top Chef or Project Runway, but had stopped watching some years ago due to an outside influence that turned them from guilty pleasures into shameful ones; something I internalized, sadly. It took the one-two punch of Hulu offering up seasons of both shows on its launch page and a randomly stumbled-upon NYT article about the latest season of Project Runway to draw me back in and, reader, they were everything I need.

There needs to be an essay written — perhaps there already has been — about the way in which the familiarity of these shows is comforting, that each episode is constructed both as a complete narrative in and of itself (Who Will Win being the primary plot, the artificial machinations and rivalries of the contestants as subplots, with special attention spent on one or two contestants’ backstories providing more emotional context each episode) and part of a greater, season-long storyline. That there are few real surprises beyond, perhaps, the winner and loser of each episode isn’t the bug that some complain about; it’s a feature. These shows aren’t watched to be surprised, their value is gladiatorial soap opera.

I’ve written before, I’m sure, about the emotional value of trash culture — that something you enjoy but feel unchallenged by can be relaxing and good for you purely by distracting you from real worries and allowing you to de-stress and let your mind relax from panic mode. It’s on this level that Project Runway and Top Chef work for me, and so, so successfully. Getting sucked in to who’s in and who’s out, or watching chefs screw up during Restaurant Wars, feels like the very best way to unwind after work, and stop thinking about more important things for a brief second.

And then there’s Queer Eye, but that’s another thing altogether…

“No Matter Where You Go”

Arthur Lee is one of those iconic figures who existed on the periphery of my musical experience; Forever Changes was an album I attempted to get into a number of times in the 1990s, frustrated by my failure to “get it” for the dumbest of reasons — the CD version that existed in the UK was mixed far too quietly and that distracted me every single time I listened — even though it was constantly referenced as this deeply influential, important piece of music. “Alone Again Or” was, for the longest time, the only Love song that I could actually recognize, and the band was, just like the Mamas and the Papas, this band I knew that I would love if only I could find a way inside. “Always See Your Face” was that way.

Like “Alone Again Or,” it’s a gentle song, despite how hard they’re trying to go as everything heads towards its close; it remains charmingly amiable thanks to the descending horn parts and Lee’s understated scatting during the guitar solo, not to mention the wide open spaces formed by the guitar riff at the song’s center. There’s just something inviting about the sound of it, inherently.

Lyrically, it’s vague to what should be the point of meaningless, but somehow the opposite is true. Maybe it’s Lee’s delivery, perhaps the universality of the sentiment — which feels like it comes directly from the blues, in its practiced melancholy — but “Won’t somebody please help me with my miseries/Can’t somebody see, yeah, what this world has done to me?” feels true on some primal level. It’s surprisingly potent, to me, at least.

I would hear this song in movies or TV shows, or out in the real world somewhere, and it’d stick with me for days after: The vocal melody of that first, “Won’t somebody please,” or the horns moving down slowly. Eventually, haunted by it, I looked it up and fell in love. It seems fitting for a song about being unable to escape something.


“Generally Discouraged Employees From Trying To Make The Site Safer”

According to the report, YouTube generally discouraged employees from trying to make the site safer for users. “Lawyers verbally advised employees not assigned to handle moderation to avoid searching on their own for questionable videos,” according to the report, fearing that making substantive content decisions would eliminate the protection YouTube receives from federal shield laws.

From here.

Is How I Feel Right Now

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few days about the fact that life is time-delayed these days. Last week, I got notice that I had been paid but that the money wouldn’t be available to me for days because of how long direct deposits take. Today, I got notice that my divorce was finalized, and had been for more than a week, but I hadn’t known because the information hadn’t been passed through the system just yet.

Things happen, and then they happen again, days after the fact.

It feels like a lesson in contemporary physics. Instead of thinking that actions and reactions are particularly instantaneous, we learn that’s only true when it comes to events between natural or physical objects. The more abstract the area gets, the longer the delay, perhaps. If I push you, you’ll either steady yourself or fall over immediately. If I push at the edges of an idea, there’ll be the delay where however I push at that idea has to be received by an audience, which then has to translate my new concept into something they understand, and then apply that to the idea in question, and so on.

(To make that last matter more meta; I’m writing this on March 4, 2019, but it won’t be published on this site for some weeks afterwards. See? More delay. Things happen, and then they happen again.)

It’s very strange, and not a little disconcerting, to go through such life-changing events and experience everything that comes with them — all the emotions, all the feelings and thoughts and questions and everything — only to then have a moment of, Wait, this actually happened awhile back and I didn’t realize it at the time. Or, the opposite; to pre-feel everything and panic and stress and know that it’s almost ridiculous because that isn’t actually happening just yet.

I know how I feel right now, but I also know that’s not necessarily based on all the facts at hand.