Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Paean to Old Ghosts

For all my brothers out there.

Today I woke up in a mood of sadness and loneliness. Throughout my morning rituals this slowly grew into feelings swinging between apathy and self-pity.

Sometimes I think my brain does these things simply out of boredom.

After an hour of feeling sorry for myself I took stock of my current situation - not a deep personal reflection on my multitude of failures and meager successes, but a quick inventory. Everything from "Am I breathing?" to "Is my car going to start?"

It's never a very long process. Sometimes, simply knowing I can drive my car with the top down can halt the downward spiral of my mood. If not, realizing I have that luxury about 80% more often than MINI Roadster owners in Finland will . Other times this thought of Finland,
with its great nationalized healthcare and premier education systems, can spur me into a frenzy of anger. Soon I find myself shouting, "Fuck off, you fucktard!" at any and every possible person or car stupid enough to appear in front of me.

I'm a charmer, I know.

Today's slice of emotional meanderings, ruminations of despair and melancholy cud chewing was, as such things go, a little harder to shake off. These feelings are fairly common, and I would venture to guess this is a shared experience for anyone suffering depression. In cases when my depression is bad these reveries can be much more profound and painful. Luckily, my meds, my men (my brothers in and out of the Mankind Project), and my mmmmm a word that starts with M that means my personal philosophy. Which, in a nutshell, is that life doesn't actually suck. Instead, we can choose how we react to the external world. Maybe my Maya, which means illusion mistaken for reality. At least that's what I say it means in this case. I think Webster will agree with me.

Anyhow, I'm not here to over-analyze my psyche or my philosophy. I just want to establish for you, my beautiful reader, that I was in something of a funk this morning, and then I got better.

And it was nearly that simple.

After any kind of setback - from the minor to the major - my mother would leave us to it. If we wanted to wallow - we got to wallow. But then, after a certain amount of wallowing or grieving or crying, she would say to us, not unkindly; in fact with something like grace, "Okay, you've moped long enough. It's time to move on."

And that was it. We were expected to put away our pain or sadness or whatever, and move on.

Like many things parents say or do this seemed at the time to be cruel and heartless - which are words one would never use to describe my mother. It also seems to me to be a bit of genius to me now. A reasonable suggestion for a child that tripped on the sidewalk.

I can make several arguments for how my mother's way of handling these episodes is absolutely the worst thing you can tell a kid. Everything from "you shouldn't compartmentalize emotions" to "such coddling of children makes them weak."

But the reality is that, as an adult, the choice is yours. What do you want to do about the bumps and bruises and grief and heartache life offers you?


I hadn't intended on getting on that spiel about our emotional health and the major impact our choices have upon on our moods and personality. So let me try to wrestle this back into shape.

The first point is that I woke up in a somewhat shitty mood. The second point is that I got over it. Then there was that bit where I took you on a nostalgic scavenger hunt through my memories. Blah blah blah.

The problem is obvious - I skipped over the profound learning piece where I struggled with my sadness until I forced myself to be not sad. I skipped it because it is a BIG SECRET.

Cue the montage cut.

Actually, it pretty much just happened. I got in my car. (I love my car.) I turned on my Horny Holidays playlist. I put the top down. (I love driving topless.) It was 47?. (I love driving topless when it's cold out.)

And I drove to work. I jammed to Brian Setzer, I skipped Rick Wakeman, I jammed to Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquours. I played some cat & mouse games through traffic with a white Mustang. I jammed to some Pogues. I parked outside my office.

I was in a fucking fantastic mood.

Driving and toying and jamming and racing and yelling at slow-poke drivers didn't change my mood.

I let myself enjoy all those things because I get joy out of all these things. Maya was still there with her bills and her crazy politics and stressful work projects. And so am I. I'm trapped here in Maya. I'm not smart enough to think my way out of it, so, What The Fuck!! I might as well enjoy my life. Crying about it isn't going to change a. god. damn. thing.

Let's ride this puppy.

And if you're just not feeling it, well, Fuck You! Stay off my cloud! Don't harsh my mellow, man!

Take this - maybe it will help:


As initially conceived, I hadn't actually intended to end at the above point, but timing is everything in Vaudeville, and I had a place to be and the sun was in my eyes and the wind took it.

Earlier, I said we always have a choice. And we do. But sometimes the choices are for crap. Sometimes the wallowing is necessary. Sometimes - oftentimes, it's hard to see the choice at all.

Today, December 14, is my brother's birthday. Ray, if the fucker were alive today, would be 56.

Goddamn, that is old. But, to be maudlin, he never got a chance to be old. He lived a pretty amazing full and interesting life - but no one is going to convince me that 20 years was enough. I miss my brother.

Pretty annoyingly obvious stuff, right? Now, you're probably thinking, "You dumb fucker, of course you were in a bad mood. It's your dead brother's goddamn birthday." Right now I'm sure a little of my sadness was that very item on my calendar. But there is a whole life going on inside of my head, and my self-pity party had a lot more guests from my current life than 36 year old ghosts.

I can't deny that Ray was mixed up in there, but this is a part of that Big Secret I mentioned earlier. The part of my day that was really indicative of the impact Ray's life (and death) had on me was in the parking lot at work (not my moody, bitchy, self-indulgent, whiny morning.) After I drove in the cold wind. After I jammed out to Mojo singing about the bow he wanted to untie. 

I got out of my car and thought, "Wow. I love being me."

I love living this life. I am thankful, I feel honest-to-the-gods gratitude (a word I rarely utter) for all the great people in my life, my daughters, my toys, even my goddamn stressful job.

And there is a reason I can enjoy all this stuff, even if the bills or the stress or the depression are always there. It's because my brother's death was a terrible awful unfair and painful event that I still haven't gotten over. But it did teach me some hard and painful lessons.

I learned the first one almost immediately. It was the lesson I have hung onto from that moment until today. It allows me to make sense of my world and my reality. Are you ready for the bumper sticker philosophy that molded my outlook on life, the universe, and everything?

Shit happens.

That's it. Shit happens. I could spend the rest of my life angry at god, at my neighbor, at Ray's friend, at motorcycles - and I did all that. I still pick those old chestnuts up once in a while and wrap myself up in anger or pity or sadness. But shit happens and that is the only explanation for my brother's death that makes sense to me. Others tell themselves their own stories, and if that's what helps them make sense of the senseless; well good for them.

So - shit happens. I hung on to that. I built a huge piece of armor out of that and shielded myself from a lot of senseless bullshit with that armor.

And for a long time I thought that was all I needed.

The second lesson - a much harder and equally more dear lesson was another piece of bumper-sticker preaching.

Life goes on.

Geez. That confused me so much. How can anyone be thinking about anything else ever meaning anything ever again? Ray was dead. That's it - game over, man! High School? Meaningless. Graduation? Pointless. Nothing had any right to matter after that one big thing. My brother was dead.

You get the point. I was 18 and fucked up.

But life went on. Whether or not I wanted it to, life went on. There were still tests to take and jobs to go to and all that shit that is what makes up living life.

Life goes on. It took years. Literally fucking years for me to understand that this was the real lesson, the real Big Secret. Life goes on. In fact it was 10 years later before that lesson had any real meaning for me.

Ten years after Ray died, our mom died. Out of fucking nowhere, my mom was dead.

I was certain my life was going to come to a shrieking halt. For the grief to open a hole in my world like the ravenous maw of a giant Sandworm with scythe-sized teeth waiting to swallow me whole. (Yes, I really loved the Dune books.)

I assumed that if losing a brother felt like being shot in the head at least once a day every time I thought of him, losing my mom would be so much worse.

But it wasn't.

I remembered that Life. Goes. On.

Better yet, so did my sisters. Since we knew that life goes on, we were able to support my dad, who had lost so much more than we were able to understand. We were able to function in the "real" world. And, because we knew that life goes on, we were able to joke and laugh and know we were going to survive.

This is a Paean to my brother Raymond Francis Anthony Harvey on his birthday. But it is also an act of praise for all my brothers. I'm still angry at Ray for dying in 1981, and I will never get a better or more satisfactory answer for why he died, except to know that, fuck, Shit Happens. I would give up all the pain I was spared when my mother died to have him back. To even have known him for just a little longer. But I can't.

So, I'll do the best thing I can think of doing. Living without letting the bullshit minutiae that makes up most of the illusion called the "real world" ruin my day, my week, my life.  Living fully. Living passionately.

Life goes on. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Choose to love it, because shit happens.


David Davis said...

yeah baby!! great stuff. and we always have a choice......

Anonymous said...

I did not know you suffer from depression. I do too. And I fight it similarly, with freedom of choice. Some days are easier than others, but the choice is always present. Thanks, John, for sharing. -GL