The Coming Apocalypse. (Or, for Carolyn on her birthday…) ;)

With it being almost time to vote, and me having mentioned the apocalypse, one would be forgiven for thinking I was gonna talk about Donald Trump.

But nah…

Instead, today’s lesson comes from the Book of Shelly, the prophet who tells us of the fate of Ozymandias, with his colossal statue lying broken in a wasteland.

ozy2
Sic semper tyrannis, bitch! (art credit: witchofwest on Deviantart)

With a frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command….

ozy
Where are the trunkless legs? I was promised trunkless legs!
Here’s the end of the sonnet:
 And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

kanye-west-fan
Ozymandias, with his frown and sneer. (Too on-the-nose?)

Solomon of Jerusalem  penned the following lyrics (found on his classic album Ecclesiastes):
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
All things are full of weariness;
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
There is no remembrance of former things,
   nor will there be any remembrance
   of later things yet to be
   among those who come after.

30-willie-nelson-cover-nocrop-w529-h756
King Solomon, ca. 970 BCE. In his “Cowboy phase.”

(TL:DNR? Okay, pick up the thread again here…)
So, the point, Ozymandias and King Solomon? You’ll be forgotten, no matter who you are.
Good lesson, in any case, even if numerous modern-day prophets have made the same point:
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see…
Dust in the wind… All we are is dust in the wind…”
(Livgren, as found in the Prophecies of Kansas.)

maxresdefault-1
Lessons learned at prom last a lifetime…

For all of these men–and they’re all men, fwiw–I must pose a question:

Why do you care? About your “legacy,” I mean. Being “remembered” by people not even alive yet.

And why are so many of us kinda like that?

maxresdefault
Achilles, here’s the deal–if you sacrifice yourself in a pointless war, we’ll totally name an injury after you. A groin pull, maybe, or very sore lower back…

What makes us want to spread our image and our name across the land, like a lightning bug smeared across the inside wall of a church-camp quonset hut on a mosquito-infested night? (That’s an oddly specific image…) What makes us want to carve our names into history, leaving a reputation-shaped scar to last all time? What good does that do us when the sands will still come and cover us up?

mount-rushmore
In their defense, none of these guys specifically asked for this treatment.

What good does it do? There is an answer: No good. none at all. None good.

Life has its own scale, and it isn’t monumental. It is human-sized–if you’re living right.

tumblr_n8izti7zhc1r4axqio1_1280
This is my motto. Since about 5 minutes ago.

It’s today. And when tomorrow comes, it’s that day. And if you’re lucky, you’ll share it with the right people. And when you’re gone, and when they’re gone, and the sands come, it won’t matter, because you have already had your days, and you knew it when it was happening, and it was enough. More than enough.

Between love today and future glory, I’ll take love. Speaking for me is the prophet Nesmith in the book of Monkees:

I have no more than I did before
But now I’ve got all that I need
For I love you and I know you love me

(Note to my beloved wife–I’m talking about you.) 🙂

Advertisements

Be the Paperclip

Living inside anxiety, I can’t help but think I may actually be the worst person to explain it. I’m certain that it looks entirely different from the inside, and would be unrecognizable to people on the outside.

I feel this is best expressed through a peyote-inspired scene from “I dream of Jeannie”:

Me: “Okay, it’s a round room, about twenty feet across, with jewels on the wall, and cushions that fit together, and pillows all around. And kinda pink and purple. Mostly purple. Weird ceiling. Do you see it?”

jeannies_bottle_interior
All pretty girls should have pillowy rooms with fabric on the walls.

Some human: “Dude… you’re high. All I see a shiny bottle about as long as my arm.”

Me: “Open it!”

SFX: Poof!

Anxious person emerges, blinking.

And….. scene!

bottle
Okay, anxiety is not usually this shiny. Or purple. Probably a bad example, to be honest. Seriously, it’s too late for this kind of feedback.

From this side, it feels like anxiety is connected to time somehow–like everything is coming in too fast, and nothing I do can slow it down. It feels like stress, but in more dimensions than emotions are supposed to have. (Apparently, that feeling is a real thing and much discussed at one time, in certain circles.)

future-shock-by-alvin-toffler-1970-1-728
1970? Surely not. Did the author impress it on a wet clay tablet with a pointy stick?

Alvin Toffler definition of future shock: “Too much change in too short a period of time.” Published 1970.

Part of my brain keeps saying, “Hurry up! You’re not making it. If you fall behind…!!” (Not sure what happens if I fall behind. Something bad.)

Without meaning to, I’m aware of every responsibility, every job I’ve got to do in the next ten minutes, hour, rest of the morning, day, week, semester, year, all at once… as well as the time crunch I have trying to accomplish each one while doing all of the others, facing the scrutiny and scorn of the (imagined?) authorities looming over my shoulder.

e9ae8f008197d625329bb470ca1b5a7f.jpg
Did I have an appointment at 13:30? Shit shit shit….

And all the time, all the time, all the time, I keep thinking about the years–how many I’ve passed, how many since this movie came out or that album was released, how many years I’ve taught, how many I still need to work, how many years since Mom and Dad passed away, and how many more I can hope to see, like an old man counting down to zero.

So it’s simultaneously time by the fraction of a second, and time by the year and decade, with me trapped between.

And with the thinking is the feeling of anxiety–a true, physical feeling–like a fever that gives you chills all over; or like razor-blade poison traveling through your veins; or like frost on your skin, a quarter inch deep; or like molten lead in your gut, sending its metallic tendrils every direction.

It makes me grit my teeth until I have a headache. And jiggle my knees. And crack my knuckles over and over.

200320978-001
Even when I’m not making this face, my brain is making this face.

See? I can’t describe it properly. Maybe that’s close enough.

But I know what I want instead.

I crave slow time. Maybe no time. Sitting on the porch, reading books by natural sunlight, hearing the sound of the wind and the flutter of the curtains, with the dogs puttering around and the leaves rustling. Nothing much happening. Nothing needing to be done. No critic at my shoulder. No deadline. No existential angst.

field-of-freshly-bales-of-hay-with-beautiful-sunset-sandra-cunningham

The deepest calm I feel is when a scent, like cut grass, or a combination of clouds and sun, or some chance word, or crickets outside at night, or some other perfect accident of life conjures up not just the memory of my youth but an actual moment, a time when I didn’t inhabit this strange space, this bizarro version of my inner life. Then, for a blissful instant, I step out of the bottle, out of time, out of the fever-poison-frost, and feel…

unknown

But only for, like, you know, a second. A good second.

That’s not how I feel at work. I don’t know many people who do. But sometimes, once in a while, there’s a tiny spark of it.

spark-100617195-primary-idge
This big.

Normally (though it shouldn’t be normal) work is where everything is coming in so fast–for real, for everybody, not just in my imagination–that an actual happy, healthy human can barely keep up. Teaching is like managing a party for eight-year-olds at McDonald’s, except it’s with 30 or more kids at a time, all day, every day, and they’ve all been eating bowls full of red frosting for the last 24 hours, and your party games are super stupid, like essays and multiple choice quizzes.

80s-birthday-party-mcdonalds-2
“Do you want to throw up here or in the car, Samantha?”

Teaching is a job for masochists and martyrs and people who didn’t read the job description very well, though it is sometimes kinda fun. Not very peaceful, though. Unless you’re a paperclip.

dscn1043
“Is that a metaphor?”

Not a metaphor. An actual paperclip.

About a year ago, when I entered work feeling feverish-poisoned-frozen every day, I started to notice a paperclip on the sidewalk a few doors down from my classroom. A simple aluminum paperclip, dropped by a passerby, and probably never missed. Unassuming little tool. Modestly useful. Fragile, typically–even a child can destroy it, if it comes into their hands.

What do you make of this?

BfmvlP1CQAA1HhC.jpg
“I can make a brooch… I can make a hat…”

It was there every day. Day after day. In perfect condition. The students would walk on it, and the leaf blower would blow around it, and the rain would wash over it, and nothing troubled it. It wasn’t worth picking up, and it wasn’t worth worrying about, and it wasn’t important enough to bother destroying in a fit of “Take that!” And for months that paperclip lay there. Tenacious. Resilient. An outrageously unlikely survivor. I noticed it, and left it there, silently rooting for it to outlast the school, the way crocodiles out-survived the dinosaurs.

34-pm

Okay: picture one of those Notting Hill-type season montages, where it’s fall then winter then spring–and watch the paperclip, still there, unchanged, through it all.

Every day when I saw it, I felt a little lift. Though conditions shifted every minute at school, the paperclip stayed the same. It went unnoticed, unmoved, untroubled. Just enduring, an unlikely hero to me in my anxiety-drenched days. I would show up–another day–and it would be there–another day–and I would remind myself:

Be the paperclip. Just be the fucking paperclip.

As if it was ever gonna happen, anyway

I half-expected I’d be rich by this point in my life. That’s what I supposed back when I was a smartish kid, and I never totally shook the notion. College and marriage and life and a hundred thousand separate choices–both foolish and wise–have filled up the intervening forty years or so, and now I’m pretty sure that the rich thing isn’t going to happen. Most of the routes to wealth went dark a long time ago.

Only a handful of options remain, and they’re not great: bank robbery… buried treasure… a generous Nigerian prince…

And the lottery.

Problem is, I don’t play the lottery. Not quite never–I’ve had three or four tickets in my life, I think all as gifts–but I don’t buy them myself. It’s neither laziness nor a political statement. It’s just that I understand the odds. Still, once in awhile, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to win a big payday.

limited-moths-by-mischer-traxler
Hopefuls at the Quiktrip, buying lottery tickets. It’s so pretty!

The electronic billboard along the I-10 in downtown Phoenix tells me every day what the Powerball is up to. It’s always a number in the millions, except when it hit a billion. And since I’m on my way to work, and not always happy about it, the thought of being too rich to care is attractive. Somebody’s gotta win, amiright?

Unknown.jpeg
You know you want to.

I put too much on work, maybe. I mean, my battle with the evil twins isn’t work’s fault. I encountered depression and anxiety on my own. Some bullshit alchemical process turns the sugar water in one’s brain to vinegar; it’s not disappointment or weariness or some other work-related emotional excess that does it.

shredded-cabbage
Healthy brain

Besides, in many ways, I still like my job, especially the creative parts. But work makes it harder to find the time I need (most people need) to heal and recharge. It makes its demands on all of us, relentlessly, mercilessly, indifferent to our wishes, like the weather, or a really bad SNL episode.

Sauerkraut
Sour brain

My job is probably like yours; it gives me a paycheck in exchange for most of my hours on most of my days for most of my life. That’s the deal, and I signed up like everyone else. I would take a better deal if one came along, but I don’t see that on the horizon.

So on work days, I do what I’ve gotta do. Then, on my days off, I look to maximize serenity.

540x293_20131011_cac22882fea2da0642263b7e0c6c353a_jpg
Quick, catch it before it accelerates again…

Evenings are too short, with too many other responsibilities, to even attempt the zen thing. But weekends are my chance. And vacations are the best chance. That’s when I aim for calm, and tranquil, and slow. That’s where relief lives.

The other day, as my spring break got started, and I was somewhat more cheerful than usual, my daughter said, without intending or giving offense, “I like spring-break dad.”

You and me both, kid. You and me both.

happy dog
Spring-break dad. (Approximate.)

That’s when I think I’d like to win the lottery. A rest-of-your-life vacation. I could be spring-break dad all of the time. Better me, better dad, better husband, better life. Maybe, if I bought a ticket, I could win, and do what I want to do forever, like the best Saturdays, except it never gets over. I could take a deep breath without being reminded again and again of the thousand jobs I have to finish before Monday’s classes.

bush lottery.jpg

Except…

Dammit. It feels like cheating. Undeserved. A shortcut that would heap guilt onto the end of all the zeros on the check. Nobody’s happiness should depend on one-in-a-million (or billion) luck. Whatever happiness I’m gonna get, I’ve gotta get on my own. Or at least that’s how it feels like it should be.

Brokeback-Mountain_article_story_large
That little lottery dream hugs you so close… so gently…

So, no, lottery, I’m not gonna win you. You almost got me. I say no.

As if it was ever gonna happen, anyway…

Whaddaya Wanna Do?

What do I want to do? Nothing. Not a damn thing. There is nothing whatsoever that I want to do.

You ever been there?

If you’ve ever been depressed enough that you literally don’t want to do anything at all, nothing in the universe, you will realize what a tremendous luxury it is to want to do something. For reals. “Wanting”might seem like “breathing,” if you think it’s something that just happens as long as you’re alive, no matter what. I’m alive, so I want stuff. Except that isn’t how it works. I learned this some years ago, and get helpful echoes of the lesson from time to time.

do nothing
I don’t want to make a list. I don’t want to cross stuff off. I don’t even want to think about lists. Or not-lists.

Normal folks who are feeling okay want stuff all the time. They want to be entertained, and they want to eat, and they want to drink. They want to sleep, and they want to make money just enough that they “want” to go to work.

But there’s more.

They want to watch their favorite TV shows, they want to check their social media, they want to watch a basketball game, they want to go out of town on the weekend, they want to have sex, they want buy some stuff for the house, they want to visit with friends, and they want dessert.

And and and…

 

TR006799
What I imagine everyone else is doing right now in Normaltimes-Funville. It’s in the Midwest somewhere. All I know is that they have a Jimmy John’s and a Tastee-Freez.

Because they want things, they do things, which is awesome. But what happens if you don’t want anything anymore? What happens when depression settles in your bones and nothing is good and nothing appeals to you and nothing is worth getting out of bed for?

depression
Not gonna move. Blinking is iffy. Adulting is right out.

I looked into this about thirteen years ago–you’re welcome–and you wanna know what I found? You do nothing. You go to bed, because that’s ground zero, and you stop doing. You stop planning, you stop caring, and you stop thinking. It’s like dead, except dead supposedly doesn’t hurt like depression does. (Depression feels like a broken heart all over. That’s my best approximation.)

It has a word, which makes it feel all medical. Anhedonia. Without pleasure.

If your brain has too little want-to-do-stuff juice, you don’t even want to eat. That’s the weirdest thing. You literally do not want to chew food and swallow it. No appetite. No desire for food. Eating becomes an imposition, an intrusion, an annoyance. I ate a handful of saltines each day because I retained enough humanity to realize that this was literally the least I could do. I also drank a glass of water because I was only mostly dead.

Miracle-Max1-608x333
Very, very slightly…

Life went on in the house around me. I was the ghost in the bedroom. I forget how long. A month? Six weeks? I came out a couple of times, play-acting at “living person,” all plastic-faced and dead-eyed, but would go right back when I was done with whatever human interaction had been forced on me.

I had the TV on even though I couldn’t stand to watch any shows. I didn’t want to be entertained. But noise and movement was good, for some reason, so I watched every second of the French Open tennis tournament. I didn’t really watch; it just played in my general direction. I think it kept me from thinking. I didn’t want to do that, either.

The French Open lasted a while. When that ended, I endured this and that until the British Open golf tournament came on, and then something else after that. If I had had an “ocean wave” channel, I would have put that on.

Unknown.jpeg
Looking for a “white noise” equivalent for sight, taste, smell, and touch. Wait–is there an off-switch for your brain? (Other than sleep. I broke that.)

Eventually, with a new doctor, some meds, and slow, incremental improvement, I started to do some things again. I went to other rooms in the house. I started to see other humans again. Nothing was fun for a long time, but I ate food again. I actually wanted food. I kinda needed to put back on the 25 pounds or so I had lost on the saltine cracker diet. In time, I’d go way past that, but them’s the breaks…

image
And everything else.

 

I got better. Not everybody does.

So here’s the moral of the story, boys and girls: go do stuff. Have fun, and notice that it’s fun.

Because if you feel like doing something and then do it, and you feel the least bit of joy in doing that thing–whether it’s eating a snickers or watching the Kardashians or petting your dog–you’re alive, and doing okay. You need to appreciate that moment, and the fricking chemical in your brain that made that moment possible. Tell the chemicals thank you. Wanting is awesome. It’s human and happy and absolutely not to be taken for granted.

Then go do something else that you want to do, and enjoy the hell out of it.

Rinse and repeat.

Bad Day

Smokey Robinson famously boasted, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day; when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…”

road_field_clouds_cloudy_horizon_46240_2560x1600
Which looks better: 1…

That sounds great! But now I have questions. (Somehow, he knew I would. He anticipated.)

“I guess you’d say, ‘what can make me feel this way?'”

Exactly! Hook me up, man.

Country road in the mountains
…or 2?

“What can make me feel this way? My girl…”

Fine. If you don’t want to tell me…

I’m not trying to be cynical. What I’m saying is that trying to “feel this way”–sunshiny and springy–is a sore point with me, as well as a matter of particular interest.

And Smokey leaves me hanging.

smokey.jpg
Smokey, bogarting the sunshine.

A couple other singers took up the torch and sang the songs of my people. But I didn’t want to hear them.

You see, back when I was younger and depression was all exciting and new, I lovehated anything that had Smokey’s sun and clouds reversed. The first song I recall fitting that category was “Bad Day” by Fuel.

bad day fuel
I have nothing ironic to say about this song. Or the people who made it. I actually found it very touching–if a trifle too real once.

The singer repeats what his troubled girlfriend says to him:

“I had a bad day again
She said I would not understand
She left a note that said I’m sorry, I
I had a bad day again”

I understood. I liked it because I understood it. But I didn’t want to hear it because I understood it too well. Lovehate.

“And she swears there’s nothing wrong
I hear her playing that same old song
She puts me up and puts me on
I had a bad day again”

This song fit into the category of “freaking me out because it reminds me how fragile and confusable brains are.” That’s totally a thing. Look it up.

For a period of time, I hated to see dream sequences or representations of drug trips or depression or even sadness, anything that showed normal perceptions being altered. The clinical term for the feeling I got whenever I saw something psychedelic was “icky.”

Super “icky.”

Like when the memory-impaired Dory tries to motivate the grieving and depressed Marlin with her creepy little crackpot song. (See my homage to that moment in “Shut Up, Dory.”)

That’s why I liked the next song “Unwell,” by Matchbox 20, even more, and far less. (And not because I have anything against Rob Thomas.)

“All day staring at the ceiling making
friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices
telling me that I should get some sleep
because tomorrow might be good for something”

Okay. I did some ceiling-staring. I’ll own up to that. That’s on me. But I made no friends there.

Still, too real by lots.

big toilet
Giant toilet. You see it too, right?

Does he leave it there?

Nope. He keeps going. He goes so far as to enunciate the fear I carried around unsaid.

“But I’m not crazy I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
a different side of me”

bug dog
Totally normal image. Nothing Twilight Zoney about it at all…

The song hits all the right notes: uncertain hope, fear of abandonment, hallucinations, paranoia, stigma…

This is cheery.

“I can hear them whisper
and it makes me feel like there must be something
wrong… with me”

big feet
Super icky.

I liked that the song existed, but I turned to another channel whenever it came on. I did not like how it felt to hear it.

On the one hand, I was relieved that I was not as bad off as the people in the songs. On the other hand, I felt bad that I was callous towards the suffering of others. And after that I suspected I was looking for ways to beat myself up….

I just got dizzy.

Whew. I want me some sunshine.

field_of_flowers-974026.jpg
My view, on some days.

I Don’t Wanna

Okay, you’re at work. Normal thing on a normal day. You’re getting through it, thinking that when work is over you’re gonna do some hobby/sport/funtime thing–bike, craft, book, ball, whatever. Something you enjoy. I don’t know what that thing is for you, but I’m guessing it takes at least a tiny bit of energy to start. Then, once you get started, it’s fun, and you like it.

boss-daydreaming-work
Finish a few potholders for my etsy… maybe collect beetles in the park…

Work gets over, you get home, you look at that thing you’ve been planning to do for hours, and you go…

Nah.”

Aaaaand… you sit down in front of the TV.

Screen-Shot-2015-08-06-at-5.21.28-PM
The nope is strong in this one…

I’m pretty sure that’s a human experience, not unique to any group or person. But as laziness goes (or discouragement, or weariness, whatever) it’s stupid.

Here’s a f’rinstance. I like to read. Very much. But I haven’t read nearly as many books as I would like to, or as many as I would like to have already read. For every book I’ve read, I’ve got probably five more I want to read. Many of those are on my overloaded shelves. Beautiful, shiny books… And yet, it’ll take me a couple weeks (sometimes months) to read a good book that I could have/should have read in days. I should totally be reading right now.

AR-140819857.jpg&maxw=800&q=90
Oh, no. You just shoulded all over yourself…

That next book, and the one after that, has to wait for me to get around to finishing the one I’m on, and at the end of the line are a thousand books I will never get to. That’s regret. And yet–there I go, sitting in front of the TV. (Bet you’ve done it, too.)

That’s a lot of happy happy funtime joyfulness I’ve traded for BS TV. (I apologize for employing so much technical language.) And that’s just one example. I also want to learn to play the banjo, and study Chinese, and write poetry, and redo the kitchen, and publish a comic book, and… Seriously, I’m getting tired just thinking of it.

Here’s why we sabotage our joy:

There’s a fragile fucking flower that grows inside each of us, and it’s a bitch to cultivate the damn thing. Scientist types refer to this flower as ego (but not the same ego that Freud went on about). Here it means the energy to go do stuff or control one’s volition.

poppy-flowers-27
An ego in bloom. YMMV.

It is this internal energy that, for example, keeps us focused on a task that we don’t really want to do. It is ego that makes us get out of bed to go to work. It is ego that makes a student finish homework that is tedious and stultifying.

hugh_grant_images_in_the-rewrite-h
Yes, I said stultifying.

It is the energy of ego that makes us plan and work painstakingly toward a future that is more rewarding than this one. Or do the dishes, or mow the grass, or clean out the garage… or do whatever task we would really rather not do but want to have done.

ganas
Ego! Ganas! Zeal! Gusto! Verve! Ambition! … Or sleep. Sleep is good.

It is “ego depletion” that makes it less likely to do any of those things. You wear it down at work. You use it up on the commute. If you have difficulties in your life (and who doesn’t?) you spend ego there. If you are improving yourself through diet or exercise or study, you are spending ego to achieve it. You drain it doing laundry and dusting your valuables. (I’m lying about the dusting. That’s just good fun right there!)

Even if you want to go do something fun–your sport, your crafting, your reading, your working out, or whatever–the energy to do it is gone. Ironically, it’s probably that activity that would replenish your ego. I’m not sure, though. It’s a theory. (See below.)

According to a study I don’t want to look up right now, if you have to do a hard math problem, you’re less likely to persevere and finish it if you first have to resist the temptation of a sweet treat. Those two things use the same type of energy. And you deplete this reserve of ego every time you exert willpower. Your store of ego, or ganas, or get-up-and-go, is finite, and refills slowly.

oil-change-columbia-ct
Do not do this.

Depression multiplies this problem. Depression is where somebody has pulled the damn ego plug and let it all drain out. No more energy for doing things. None at all. Gears are grinding. Axles are dragging. This feels bad. But the hopeful news is that recovery has two very easy steps:

  1. Put the plug back in.
  2. Refill your inner reservoir with high quality ego.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to accomplish these steps. If you know how to do either, please write a book. Make a million dollars. Help a lot of folks.

In the meantime, I’m gonna go do all those things I’ve been putting off in a big way.

that-january-feeling-prints.jpg
Not my image. Buy this artist’s stuff.

I guess I’ll go eat some cookies.

KREME14-B
Krispy Kreme. Even better.

A Drink of Laughter

Anybody who knew Lee Rogers knows how he laughed. He had a ready chuckle for everyday, but he also had a loud, unreserved guffaw he busted out for special. That was one of his best qualities, actually. Not just his sense of humor, but his laugh.

Dad liked jokes. And teasing. And goofing around. He had stupid wigs and fake teeth and thought it was reasonable to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee” at a church talent show or make a joke in the middle of a prayer. He was the “funny” sixth grade teacher. He loved M*A*S*H and Barney Miller and claimed to hate “The Odd Couple,” but if we put it on TV, he watched it with us and laughed more than anyone.

2002
Lee Rogers. Dad to me. On the edge of a joke. Always.

Every time he ran into an acquaintance (literally everywhere we went) he would part with a joke and walk away chuckling. My quintessential memory of Dad has him exiting the corner store (you know, Eastman at Monroe, next to the old ball diamond), still laughing to himself, reaching for the car door where I’m waiting.

About it being his best quality–Mom would not have agreed, probably. She didn’t seem to care for it when Dad was booming at all the inappropriate goings-on at Porky’s. (How’d we end up at that movie, anyway?) He later claimed she bruised his ribs with her elbowing…

porkys
That’s good clean American fun right there.

But that laugh was a good way to locate him at a big gathering. Wait… listen… there it is! Unmistakable. That direction.

Every once in awhile I hear a little bit of Dad in my own voice. Something funny catches me the right way and I bark a laugh just similar enough to his that I can’t doubt we’re related. It’s not the same, but close.

I kinda like it.

Even at my lowest ebb, way back when, and even on the not-entirely-rare bad days ever since then, I could always still laugh at funny movies and standup comedians. (Not sitcoms. Apparently, I can only laugh at things that are funny.) Al Swearengen used to make me laugh more than any comic; I’m not sure why. But then I ask myself a bigger question: how is it I–or anyone–could feel low, despondent, dipping painfully close to desperate, and yet laugh right out loud?

I Don't know
Idunno

Part of the answer, though, is that laughter and depression are not natural enemies. Some people believe it’s a cure, but nuh uh.

Depression has as many non-cures as any illness ever invented by a neutrally-cruel universe. There are hundreds of mostly bad ideas that sufferers have tried and many others that their friends have suggested–in good faith, generally–and among these are the numbing forgetfulness of alcohol bingeing, the sweet pleasure of a Friday night date, the transformative miracle of sleep, the healing love of the right person, the restorative power of vacations, the simple warmth of hugs, the brain-altering mind-wipe of illegal drugs, and on and on… to the supposed healing power of laughter.

Wars
Negative. It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.

Many of the non-cures are fun things, but they have no more impact on mental illness (in my experience) than a festively colored water balloon against an army tank.

After Robin Williams died (a man I considered the funniest human for a many years) he was remembered by some with a quote from “Watchmen”:

williams

(Perhaps the best response to this pairing was made by the writer John Scalzi on his blog. It’s worth looking at.)

If only humor were the cure…

Just questions. No answers. Except here’s another partial answer–if you’re hungry, and you’re thirsty, and you’re cold, and your dog is loose, aren’t you a little pleased to catch your dog? You may still be cold, and hungry, and thirsty, but you’ve solved one problem.

That’s laughter. Not a magic cure-all. Just a simple pleasure.

And sometimes a treasured memory.

 

Side effects include…

I don’t think most people are eager to take prescriptions. This is not unreasonable. You’ve gotta see a doctor (more than once), you’ve got the cost, and you’ve got all the “extra benefits” that come with drugs. Before it all, you must be willing to say that something’s broke. That takes some internal persuasion.

Luna-Moth
Do not walk upright or handle pointy objects while using Mothrexa®. Ask your doctor if night sweats, bleeding gums, unprovoked rage, foot rot, and anal leakage are right for you.

“I’m fine,” you say. “I am well-built and whole. Other people”–losery people–“might have something mashed up or misaligned in them, but not me.”

If you eventually resolve the cognitive dissonance between the belief in your inherent awesomeness and the fact that you feel like hammered shit most of the time, you may decide to try a prescription.

So… I took me a whole bunch of different meds. Not all at once; it wasn’t a spree or anything. They were prescribed by a competent medical professional, one at a time, stretching across a fair chunk of the Bush presidency.

dealer
“Dr. Jones,” competent medical professional.

A couple I only took for a month or two and rejected; others lasted for two or three years. Sometimes I had one for this and one for that, trying to see if they worked in combo, because your brain uses more than one chemical to do its braining, which means it can have more than one way of shorting out.

Mostly, they worked. That is to say, they were more good than bad, on the balance.

However, it was one particular drug… let’s call it “Memeron,” so I don’t get their enforcers involved… that demanded the greatest payment. I guess that’s fair, since it’s the one that worked the best for the longest.

capone
The Memeron people has axed me to inform you how it is unfortunate you seen fit to publish certain injurious and calumnious statements that wasn’t to their taste…

The doc warned me that some people gained weight while taking it. I shrugged. (Inwardly, I shrugged. I wasn’t emoting too much those days.) I started taking it, and it helped some, then helped some more.

I went back to the doctor after a month or so. I weighed more than I had previously, which he asked me about. “I like to remind my patients that there are no calories in the pill,” he says. Pleasant smile. Good one, doc. 

weight gain
Left to right: sad me to happy me (artist’s rendering)

He says it more than once over the next two years and forty pounds. (Fifty?) It gets less amusing every time.

Bite me, funny man.

But he’s right. It wasn’t the pill that made me get fat. It was eating all that food–that the pill told me I would really, really like to have. “I’d rather feel better and get fat than feel bad and be skinny,” you argue. This argument wins for quite some time.

Until it doesn’t.

Why does the existential dilemma have to be so damn bleak?

Did you ever look at a syllabus for a college course and think, “Holy shit, is this per person?”

That’ll teach you to look ahead.

cartoon-dentist-007
Welcome back! This is your 100th cleaning. Free floss!

I once calculated the number of times I’d need to get my teeth cleaned between now and the date of my likely demise. (I don’t know why. Shut up.) Kinda freaked me out.

The people who don’t look ahead and worry about stuff–paying the bills or going to the doctor or getting to work on time–they have the right idea. They seem relaxed and happy. Except for the repossessing of their stuff. And the health problems. And the angry ex-bosses. Otherwise, fine.

At certain points in your life–the loss of a loved one, a big birthday, changing jobs–you’re supposed to reflect on your life. That’s when you ask yourself some big questions: Am I where I want to be? Am I going where I want to go? Am I as happy as I should be?

meh
Inner demon says: set joy level to “meh.”

However, if your brain is twisted on sideways because of anxiety or depression, you get stuck in the big questions. You think about them all the time. You are constantly aware of the big picture… the long run… the bird’s-eye-view.

(Partly, this is because the demons which animate these mental illnesses convince you that how you feel right now is how you will always feel.)

WHY try to enjoy a book today? Monday’s still coming, whether I make the effort or not. WHY try to achieve anything, or learn anything? In forty years, I’m gone, along with everything I ever worked for. WHY create anything? It won’t last, and it won’t change anything. A hundred years from now, everything I ever made and everyone who knew me will be gone.

But that’s the wrong scale for looking at life. It’s like giving this as your address:

earth
I live here with 6 billion of my closest friends.

The joys and pleasures at a human level are swallowed up and made invisible when you scale it up to a lifetime. Or even if you think of a month or week at a time. We exist in a day. That’s where everything worth caring about happens.

I just think dogs have got it right. They live in the moment. They don’t look back. And they sure don’t look ahead.

3999300_d4f7_1024x2000
Three legs and a spare. (Not available on this model.)

They’re always up for a good time. They can lose a leg; their hips can be shot; their sight can be gone; they can be deaf; their muzzle can be gray up to their eyes… and they still just get on with it, tail wagging. No moping.

You know why? They’re only thinking about what’s fun right now.

Plus–no bills.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑