I Will Do What I Love, Even in Obscurity

This morning I read an article entitled “You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant to Do What You’re Good At.” Brianna Wiest’s essay offers some sound advice on choosing a career based on skill. However, it does not address the matter that there are interests worth pursuing regardless of the possibility of economic gain. In this age, we have the unprecedented privilege of self-publication. We need not bow to publishers or other tastemakers to have our voices heard. I am not so worried that I could exhaust my ideas in a day, a week or a month. I write simply because I’ve had the time and clarity to do so, not because I have an illusion that I could support myself by writing. I feel so fortunate to live in a time and place where it is possible to publish my ideas and experiences so easily, and I will not be discouraged because this interest of mine is not financially productive.

My pursuit of writing is not entirely different from devotion to any other hobby. Just because a hobby has the potential for artistic value does not mean that its devotees necessarily have delusions of grandeur. Think of a teacher who breeds new varieties of flowers in his spare time. Are his students and family cheated somehow by the time he spends in his garden? Would anyone imagine that he would abandon his career if he happened to breed a dynamite petunia? In our culture, artistic hobbies are not so readily supported. They are often seen at best as dividing loyalty and at worst delusional.

Now that I am well into my 40’s, I have long resolved the conflict between career and identity. Career is not so much about who you are as it is about selling your labor and developing the skills that command value in the labor market. I don’t feel anguish that I do not have a creative job. I feel lucky that I have a job that pays my bills and leaves me with enough time to enjoy my family and do a bit of writing and photography.

I will close this entry with a quote by Martha Graham from Agnes De Mille’s 1991 book The Life and Work of Martha Graham that has uplifted me repeatedly through the years:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

Darkness Visible

When I sprained my knee recently, I knew that I would be vulnerable to depression in my recovery because exercise has been my most effective tool in coping with this mood disorder. I had major depression for seventeen years and tried many treatment strategies, including multiple medications, many therapists and even a short spell with inpatient treatment.  Back then, I knew that moderate exercise was a good treatment for depression, but I lacked the energy to stick with exercising for long enough to see results. These attempts at getting active reminded me much of the dilemma posed by Will Farrell when he played a nude artist’s model on a SNL skit, “A guy can’t sell his blood cause he’s got hepatitis, but he can’t afford hepatitis medicine unless he sells his blood.”

I believe that depression and shame are bedfellows, but I do not feel shame about many of the errors and embarrassments of my past, so I suppose that shame in the present tense is part of depression’s arsenal. The things that provoke shame during depression are often mistakes that would be judged as trivial or laughable if committed by a person who was not depressed. For instance, I never learned to use a microfilm reader because I was too ashamed to admit to any librarian that I didn’t know how to use one. Once the shame belongs to the past, I can readily admit what I did or failed to do. I figure these admissions are the least I can do for humanity, to show that I too have failed but survived. Like Whitman, I am not afraid to admit, “What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me.”

With that aside, I will admit what caused me to break free from the cycle of being too depressed to maintain an exercise regimen that would fight my depression. I had been on welfare for six years and was able to climb from severe to moderate depression because I was treated for depression with medication and therapy during that entire time. I had been denied for disability because, according to the powers that be, it was not impossible for me to find employment through the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR). The BVR judged that it was unlikely that I could keep a job without accomodations made for my depression. Next my welfare ran out before my case could be fully worked by the BVR, and I was stuck in the twilight of being disabled enough to qualify for BVR services but not disabled enough to stay on welfare. I had little choice but to apply for jobs in earnest despite the potential for failure and the dim likelihood that anyone would want to hire me with a six year gap in my employment record.

Six months later, I found a job during the pit of the Recession, and it required that I walk several miles during each shift. I also weighed 260 pounds and had no car. With my daughter’s future depending on me, I went to work and incidentally did the walking I needed to keep my depression at bay. I bought a $100 car with my first paycheck, and I am still grateful to have that job.

I hope that my knee heals soon so I can get back to the amount of exercise I need to keep from slipping back into the abyss. In the eight years that have passed since I recovered from the era of the worst of my depression, I hope that more effective medications and treatments have been developed to treat this disease.

The Script

When I was a student at Duke, I would hear intriguing things in passing, such as the weary looking fellow on the student bus recounting how he’d written a twenty page term paper in the hospital as he recovered from a collapsed lung. Another time I overheard a letter read aloud from a recent graduate who claimed that he’d been busy “translating the works of Martin Heidegger, planning a trip to Cameroon and writing a play in the middle of which the audience seizes the script and rushes the stage.”

In the intervening years, the thought of a play that opens the possibility of an audience coup has captured my imagination. It looks as if we are moving ever closer to the audience taking over the script of art, entertainment and even politics. The first hint was the spread of reality television, wherein the audience saw that so-called unscripted dramas could wield as much influence as the scripted dramas doled out by the usual Hollywood tastemakers. It didn’t take long for viewers to smell the insincerity and see that these unscripted shows were contrived, but I think that these shows have endured in popularity in part because they feature some improvisation of a select few who were once just part of the audience. Fans can still hold the hope of auditioning for an opportunity to write part of the script of a favorite show. For instance, knowing that it would not be impossible to win a reality competition series gives the audience more power than they had in earlier days of television, which suggested few aspirations aside from achieving the socioeconomic status of families portrayed in shows.

With the spread of social media, the line between the audience and the authors/producers has blurred so much that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two at times. I would guess that the audience still doesn’t have as much power as it seems. For example, the internet still talks about television more than television talks about the internet.

As for politics, I’ve seen more power shifted to the audience this year than in previous elections. Bernie Sanders’s supporters changed some of the script that is the Democratic Party Platform. Donald Trump seized the GOP script and rushed the stage all the way to the Republican nomination.

 

 

When the Heart Rules the Mind

GTR_(GTR_album_-_cover_art)I think it is possible that the human mind has a finite capacity for trivia and that this mind of mine approached its data limit long ago. My memory is so littered with things I recall seeing on early MTV or hearing on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 that I am challenged in trying to commit more recent pop culture to memory. Perhaps this issue reflects a subconscious vote on quality rather than a deficit in my memory. If given the choice between learning the current Billboard charts and remembering that Prince helped write “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks, I would choose Prince and Stevie every time.

Now that I am well into my 40’s, I worry that some of songs that rotated through my list of favorites over the years could be lost to the advance of time. What if I am one of the last people left that loved a particular song? I often think that the story of each of our lives is a dying language and that each of us should preserve that language by passing on our stories. The soundtrack of each life is a dying language of sorts, too.

One song that I loved and could be lost to time is “When the Heart Rules the Mind” by GTR. I can remember being thirteen years old and watching Alan Hunter introduce the world premiere of the video. Mom was watching with me and suggested that we record the video on VHS, despite that we hadn’t heard the song before. Since there was no such thing as video on demand in households back in the mid-80’s, my mom, my sister and I were in the habit of keeping a tape queued in the VCR to capture good music videos. It was like creating a 6 hour long mix tape of song videos and concert specials. My mom took the time to catalog all of these mega mixes, which ranks among one of the many reasons I believe that God smiled upon me by choosing my mom for me. “When the Heart Rules the Mind” was the first song on one of those VHS tapes, and she and I watched that clip many times, individually and together.

While the original video is full of mullets, Miami Vice style suits in tasteful British colors and somewhat ill-advised choreography, some aspects of the music itself stand the test of time, especially Steve Howe’s guitar solos. I recall that this band was a cross between a super group and a side project, since they supplemented the marquee guitarists (Hackett and Howe) with seasoned session players.  The band name GTR seems to imply that they were not a super group, for it seems that the band names of super groups are usually a collection of surnames, like Emerson Lake and Palmer, or an Americana-themed name, such as Damn Yankees or Traveling Wilburys.

Short of buying airtime to broadcast this song, I have done my part to buy it some more time in our collective pop culture consciousness. While this song may sound a bit contrived and a touch cheesy, I haven’t heard anything on Top 40 radio in decades that is on par with this tune. Back in 1986, this song reached 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nowadays thirteen year olds would not hear anything of this quality unless they dared to venture from the mainstream, and I’d guess that journey would likely lead to oldies rather than current songs.

Blessing

This evening I watched a recent NOVA documentary on Alzheimer’s research, and I suddenly recalled a blessing I said to my daughter in the hours after she was born. In my first moments alone with her, I skipped over introducing myself to her, for I figured that I was no stranger to her. I held her facing me and said, “may people feel as much pride and joy in caring for you when you are old as they did when you were so young.”

Can there be any better fortune than to be cherished at our end as much as we were at our beginning?

Down Time

Last week I sprained my knee and am awaiting the start of physical therapy to remedy this injury. My husband is also getting rotator cuff surgery tomorrow. Between these two events, my exercise regimen is definitely on hold. I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve had the time and wellness to sustain my fitness goals for several years. While I do ordinarily have plenty of competing demands on my time, I have found a way to keep going. It’s almost as if I have been blessed with time again and again, even with working full time and raising my daughter all the while. Just when I’d lose hope that I wouldn’t be able to fit in a workout or make a decent meal, the pace of my day would slow down just enough to make these priorities a reality. I haven’t had to cope with a true hiatus since before I started getting in shape in 2010.

I’ve had to reassure myself that a couple weeks of down time won’t ruin my efforts. This time is crucial to the healing of both my husband and me. Without a pause, one or both of us may not be well enough to be active in the long term. In the meantime, it’s been harder to eat well because I’m accustomed to thinking of diet and exercise together. I don’t want to think about how much less I should be eating.

Thus interlude will be over soon enough, but it has already given me some insight into why people can be apt to gain weight after injuries. It’s much harder to make a priority of eating right when there is less opportunity for exercise. There is more time to be tempted by food, yet you need to eat less to keep off extra weight that can aggravate your injury.

 

 

 

Celebrity and Politics

I don’t like seeing celebrities endorsing or campaigning for political candidates. While I understand that entertainers have the right to promote political agendas just as the rest of us do, I do not care to know their party affiliations. The synergy of fame and politics must seem irresistible to both sides. The celebrity gets free publicity while the politician gets to piggyback on the “brand” of the celebrity. The goal may be to enrich the reach of both, but I think the effect has become the opposite. I can’t be the only one who is fed up with this phenomenon.

I am a lifelong Democrat, but I have not once trusted a celebrity endorsement of a Democrat candidate. It flies in the face of reason that the super-wealthy would expose themselves to higher taxes for the greater good of us all. The rich can afford to donate to whatever causes are important to them, and they are better able to enrich charities when they pay lower taxes. The involvement of celebrities in liberal politics just gives fodder to conspiracy theories that there is a so-called Liberal Elite. It looks genuine to no one.

Conservative politics has its fair share of celebrities as well, but this is fraught with its own problems. There is a cultural price to be paid for a celebrity who espouses conservatism, and then these folks are upheld as saints for the cause and ammunition against groups whose interest the right does not support. Now that I think of it, this last problem is shared by liberals too. I hate seeing memes with a celebrity picture and quote that insults the other side, no matter which side is the target. We do not need the words of celebrities to enforce our opinions. They are authorities on nothing but the experience of fame itself.

I want to see less celebrities in politics, unless they are serious enough to run for office. However, it is also not a good thing when someone runs a campaign powered by fame. Now I must give some credit to Ronald Reagan. He is the only celebrity I can think of whose rise in politics was grounded in experience and was true to his own interest.