Wednesday, January 20, 2010

under the gun

I'm told that earlier this week was Blue Monday, a special little invention in Britain that apparently defined January 18 as the most depressing day of the year. This year, anyway. Their reasoning seems simple enough -- the holidays are over and, well, you live in Britain and thus probably won't be seeing the sun in a month and a half.

I certainly admire the Brits for sticking a flag in the ground for such a day (because really, their weather gives them every right), and I like the extra edge this adds to the New Order song that pounded in my head during many such Blue Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc., when I was in high school, but this is really just a convenient bit of calendar manipulation. Kind of like how Mother's Day falls in the middle of May -- it's not like May's a particularly hard month for moms (that I know of) or there was some kind of Mother's March on Washington that day in 1886 -- it's just a nicer month than April and June was already claimed for Dad since no major sporting events take place (or something).

Any day can be crap, and if I remember right I was feeling pretty good this past Monday as a matter of fact, despite the presence of real, live inclement weather here in  Los Angeles and the fact the time was right to be awash in British melancholy. But forces are out there, emotional hot-foots and buttons that wait to be pushed. I don't necessarily think one will do it unless there's a particularly tender spot on me that day; generally it takes a multitude of things.

This is essentially a long way 'round of saying today I've been feeling a bit of crap today, and I think how the tumblers fell into place. Some were fairly on the nose -- the weather's still fantastically gloomy, something I kind of enjoy but regardless we're biologically wired to get nailed by these things (ask anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest or, say, Scotland).

Then Massachusetts sprayed a blast of diarrhea all over what was already a fecal-friendly political climate by electing a guy who looks like the villain in 'Friday Night Lights,' and thus ensuring U.S. will not have a modern, reasonable and compassionate healthcare program in, fuck it, let's call it our lifetime.

Plus I was sick all last week and felt generally uninspired for longer than that, two obviously temporary conditions that nevertheless feel permanent when you're in them, and that's terrifying.

AND, I've got a birthday coming up, something that's certainly not a bad thing (considering the alternative) but still, it's a time to take stock of all you've done up to now and, most heavily, not done.

But i think the system running in the back of my head that finally tipped the scale was a phone call I heard on the Savage Love podcast last weekend. (If you don't listen to the gospels according to Dan Savage, i highly recommend. He's this century's Dr. Ruth if you put an improv comic's wit into her brainpan -- seriously, the guy's not just funny, he's frightfully smart.)

 Anyway, a guy called in, kind of young, and all he wanted was to find love. A reasonable and even typical request, but he wanted to find love as soon as possible because he was just diagnosed with ALS, also know as Amiotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, something a small part of me is a little surprised I still know how to spell.

If you're lucky, you know that jumble of syllables only as Lou Gehrig's Disease, something far away and mysterious that probably also allows you to laugh at the variety of harmless jokes that come at that name's expense. (Denis Leary had a good one.) I'm not lucky, my mom died of ALS a little more than 10 years ago.

So, there was a time that such a phone call would've had me nearly breaking my wrist to try and turn off the radio. I lived through that stuff, after all, and don't need to hear all-too-vivid reminders of it. At least that's how my mind operated a few years ago. Lately though I've been trying to turn and face such things, let whatever emotion that pops up blast me in the face, figuring Attention Must Be Paid. It's been a long time, too long I feel like. No sense running from all that now.

So I sat in the garage listened to this guy, his remarkable strength and calm as he described his situation, considered whether he was being selfish to look for love that would only, inevitably, break the other person's heart in 2-4 years. (He spoke frankly of the ultimately pointless radical treatments out there now that only stood to add painful months to his life, never mentioned the long-term delay mechanisms like feeding tubes and respirators like those used by Stephen Hawking, who's pretty much lived forever with the damn disease as near as I can tell.) He had no delusions about what was coming and wasn't afraid, at this point anyway, and his bluntness was somewhere between inspiring and jarring.

Dan Savage dipped his voice, responded with characteristic sensitivity that the caller was over-thinking the whole thing. He had every right to pursue someone to help "take him out," as it were (or will be). He referenced the AIDS crisis of the 80s, when loved ones consumed by fear abandoned loved ones to die alone. But then there were other couples who did not, couples and individuals who showed remarkable strength. Then he frankly but somehow not bluntly said that we are not entitled to die with accompaniment, even when we couple off. But he encouraged. Then he apologized. The he apologized on behalf of me, the listener, which seemed about right.

How's your Blue Monday now?

A few days later while listening to a later episode, another caller left a message in reponse saying that she was half of the duo who recorded the podcast's power-pop theme song, and that her partner had also been diagnosed with ALS recently and just got married. So, caller from Seattle who moved there alone, there was hope. That's twice this disease, this spur into the side of my memory was hit.

I bring these up not to make a point about bad moods or memory, but more to add that i listened to both of these calls and, at least by comparison to prior years, wasn't devastated. I was sad, maybe in a different, sharper kind of way than someone might have who never knew such things, but I wasn't transported back to the most weeks of my life in August of 1999, sob into the heel of my hand and, I should mention, did not feel overcome by some bathwater-warm light of grace or acceptance that's gained through experience. Mostly it all just sort of ran off me.

And I think that's what has been sitting in my belly all week like some kind of noxious landmine, waiting to overtake my day. I didn't feel those feelings above because I'm not supposed to -- time has passed, I'm removed from the scorched Earth my mother's illness left behind because that's what my brain had to do. I need to function; distance had to be built.

And that, for as much as I need it, is kind of sad thing. I'm years removed from the raw, horrible grief from my mother's death, but since those memories were the last ones I had, I feel weirdly protective over them. Time has passed with an efficiency that seems to me almost gauche.

I can't do anything about that, of course. But what I can do is try and honor it, even if a little bit. It's writing about those experiences from 10 years ago that haunts me when I have trouble falling asleep, but it's a project that has never felt quite right in the numerous finished and half-finished chapters and remembrances I've accrued up to this point. I think that's why I've been showing up here, to either learn how to do that or even drop of some gestural sketches of how I might approach this demanding beast. I can't stop time, not really, but if I figure this out I think I can catch it for awhile.


At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you're not supposed to write about it. Maybe you're supposed to let the grass grow on that scorched earth; let the grass be the happy memories you have. I know there is enough of those to grow grass over the entire earth. An occasional tear may be the water that helps the grass to grow.

Love you!


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