Please Press Pause
Here it is, my latest confession.
Most days, my body feels weighted, like an anchor stubbornly dug into the ocean floor; my head, a leaden slab of heft, nearly impossible to remove its impression from my foam pillow. Atrophy embodies my limbs, dragging, defunct like stumps of once fruit-bearing trees.
In constitution and philosophy, I am typically mistaken for someone many years my junior. I am frequently reminded of my capacity for empathy, allure, creative nature and tireless spirit. But none of this concerns me right now, as my prefrontal cortex goes into spin cycle, old chronic tapes of I’m not enough loop incessantly. Someone please press pause.
The fact that I am clad in black clothing and accessories should come as no surprise; it is 1986 and there is a post-punk culture snaking through the network of streets in downtown New York City, like dense, leaden spillage through narrow alleys on a circuit board. Enterprising outfitters like Canal Jeans sell purposely-dyed oversized matte tops and bottoms — current wardrobe staples and a best-seller in this Village mainstay — for freaks like me, oddball anchors in this burgeoning arts community. I saunter through these back alleys proud of the identity I have fallen into, taking cues from the album jacket allure of artists I hold in esteem, like The Cure, particularly. As an impressionable 20-something musician/songwriter brewing my own musical stew to feed the musical tributary, Robert Smith’s archetypal brand of sinister sonics sharply informs my own songwriting prowess; I reference their groundbreaking 1982 Pornography album as a sound palette. Alongside my maiden electric 1976 Ibanez 2370 hollow body guitar — waves of spiteful feedback if you gaze in its direction — interlaced with smatterings of chorus, distortion, delay and attitude, the elements that render my music emotive and provocative are in place.
This aural assault mirrors my pervasive state of being, exemplifying the practice of art imitating life, imitating art. Shrouded in eyeliner, hairspray layers and rubber bracelets, I am poised to spin the most compelling creative tales in a neighborhood that is rebuilding from 1970s White Flight and in response, bleeding creativity. Dichotomous to this feeling of exhilaration is a mournful presence, a longing for wholeness, for purpose, for connection, and I give these to myself in mere bite-size portions — crumbs left for neighborhood cats — just enough to survive on. This internal tug-of-war will occupy residency in my mind far too many seasons. And as I stalk the city streets with the likes of Bauhaus, The Chameleons and Killing Joke clamoring messages of heartache, isolation and other random states of human suffering, I am left enlivened and forlorn in equal measure.
Desperate for currency of any kind — a tether to mere existence — I am greatly comforted by my implied scheme to adopt an all-encompassing tortured artist identity. As such, I take to the streets with my heart in full view, eroded from prior trauma, fecklessly destroying relationships and obliterating opportunities to live my fullest potential. There’s one chief difference between the angry, insufferable young creative I am and the older version I will become: time; that elusive, manufactured entity of structure that helps us humans negotiate the world, presumably keeping us safe and productive — overreaching, even — while holding ourselves hostage in a restricted state of being.
But wrapped in this consoling shroud at 23, I see a boundless stretch of freeway before me, endowed with all the opportunities that crossroads, exits and their associated adventures offer. Somewhere along the way, the protective role of Major Depressive Disorder will become antiquated and hindering; the journey will feel more like a one lane back road under perpetual construction, each time lumbering past one of these zones, ultimately careening headlong into a dead end.
Curiously, I recall the first line of lead track “One Hundred Years,” painting a broad stroke of the entire Pornography album, “It doesn’t matter if we all die.”
Now that you know…
I will deeply question my purpose at many turns to the point of debilitation.
I will ruminate that you’ll about-face, running into the comfort of someone my true junior, brainier, more charismatic — who doesn’t awaken with such burden — convinced you’ll discover me for the fraud that I believe I am.
I will fear my irrelevance as a biologically middle-aged white male in a younger, diverse world, my cohort largely represented in Big Pharma ads for erectile dysfunction or type-2 diabetes, neither of which applies to me. While most of my contemporaries — who I will have little in common with — plan their retirement and overtly espouse their desire for things to remain complacent, I will overtly disparage their racist rhetoric, embrace change and gear up for career #3, my eyes on earnest concerns that affect the greater good.
I will fret that the fear of being big in a world that regards the audacity of such boldness will ultimately supersede the fear of living an unfulfilled life.
And I will endure sleepless nights ruminating about my ensuing quagmire, robbing me of precious years — my life spiraling into a chasm that there’s no escape hatch for — though I will recall fleeting moments of stability, productivity, felicity.
But right now, none of this matters.
What matters is the insurmountable feat of peeling myself off the floor — like sticky fruit leather from waxy paper — as I’ll try everything short of quarantining myself in some upstate monastery to rid myself of this venom. What matters is placing two Converse Hi-Tops on my feet — they don’t even have to match — so as not to be burned and mangled by the crusted streets of my hometown that time ignored. What matters is feeling good enough just to feel mediocre. What matters is getting the fuck out of Dodge.
Someone please press pause.