See, I Told You So…

I knew she was cooking supper, delectable, with only my pleasure in mind, but I pushed it away, my appetite quashed by my preoccupation with all the times I failed to appreciate her.

She told me about her day, every detail, all animated and smiling but I couldn’t hear it, feeling too guilty for all those times I didn’t listen.

She was interested in how my day went and peppered me with questions – not understanding that I couldn’t answer or engage because I knew she was no longer interested in me.

She came to sit and put her arms around me but I couldn’t accept her affection, too full of remorse for all the times I pushed her away.

She wanted to make love but I was too busy lamenting our loss of intimacy and that she no longer found me attractive.

She loved me but I couldn’t accept it because I knew I was unlovable.

She forgave me but I couldn’t believe it because I knew I was unforgivable.

She left me, proving that my intuitions were right all along.

(Intentionally Left Blank)

The great pianist Debussy, when asked how he could play those notes so beautifully, responded “It is not in the notes that the beauty of the music lies; it is in the silences between them.”

The value of space is not limited to music: In art, visual design, web and graphics design and paintings – the blank space is what defines the picture. In writing, the most artistic and successful editing is that which does not go back and add or even rearrange but rather goes back and subtracts.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away,” reminded French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Music, writing and speech are processes that improve by subtraction of content, not addition. When I first write a piece I see a lump of clay in front of me, that I have to chisel away at – mercilessly – before it gets too old and dry. And, well, lumpy.

So we have the tune, or words – essential but insufficient – What gives it meaning, and life? Tone, inflection, facial expressions, body language and the most important form of the spaces – the rhythm of the silences. Any latin music lover knows that the “clave,” the spaces that form the rhythm, is the backbone of the song, without which the song cannot exist. I think that a life has a clave, but that’s for another post.

An obvious example of where we don’t have that is email. All we have are bare words. Letters. We can’t extrapolate true meaning from it. I make it a rule to use email only for transmission of necessary factual information. How many of us wished we could unclick it as soon as we sent it? How many of us have misunderstood and misinterpreted an email and then responded accordingly, leading to an argument, a fight, even a damaged relationship? The format of email is just too insufficient. Frighteningly so. It is only the words. The notes. Nothing else. No spaces, no rhythm, no clarity. And what happens when we get no clarity? We project, and our projections are almost always wrong. Wrong by nature – they are our projections, not their reflections.

Perhaps this has such personal meaning to me because I was raised by deaf and blind parents. From the deaf I learned how to truly listen, from the speechless how to express myself, and from the blind how to really perceive. How did it come to be that I have devoted my life and my livelihood to listening, speaking, writing and seeing? I had to learn how to see, hear and feel just by the spaces – between the notes, between the letters, between the two.

The search for meaning in our lives is so difficult because it’s just too damn noisy. Let’s quiet it down, simplify it – Go back and start subtracting – All those things that really didn’t matter after all: The heartache you thought would end your life; that awful first time you had sex; the “F” you got in Ancient Greek; the job you hated (or still hate); your kids that aren’t as perfect as you think they should be, your spouse that is no longer who s/he was when you first met him/her. (Sh/e is not supposed to be!) And then my favorite, the be all and end all: “I’m too old and too poor.” Get rid of it all, sweep it away, toss it in the dumpster. Then take that dumpster down to the beach and burn it all up. You will most likely have to make several trips. These things are just noise. Clutter.

Rather than ruminating on what you want to say to others, leave space – between each other and between your ears – for what they might like to say to you. Listen to their words and their spaces and I promise you will never be alone.

And how about giving ourselves the same courtesy? Take a machete to those delusions of inadequacy and failure, the plans that never materialized (as if we really have any control over them anyway), the things we always wanted to do but can’t anymore. The cacophony going over and over in your mind. Just words. Noise. Clutter. Truth be told it doesn’t even matter if they are (what we think of as) “true.” They just aren’t helpful. If you want to feel better, be better. Happiness is an action – Show me. Gratitude is an action – Show me. Love is an action – Show me. If you don’t like what you see then be it. If you don’t like what you hear, say it. And while you’re at it go find someone to help. I promise you there is no shortage. Do it, and you don’t feel better I’ll buy you a plane ticket to Hawaii.

Keep going. Get out of your head – Why stay in a battle zone? Chip away at what you’ve got until all you’ve got left is a poem. Or a song. Or a space. When there is nothing left to subtract you will see in what remains all that is here and all that really matters. You will hear the silence. You will see the spaces.

What I am left with is Love, in its many different forms – the synergistic power of kindred souls; beautiful music, words, and the silences that define them. I realize then that I need never be alone.

So I say: “Love, let us just be quiet…

Let us look into each other’s faces – I’m excited to find out if we smile, or laugh, or cry.”

We touch, we look, we embrace.

We can hear the silence between the notes and know the music for the first time.

Copyright November 2016, Dr. Bill

Good Morning, Heartache

You wake up in the morning and take another pill so you can sleep until noon. You think that maybe if you can manage to miss half the day the other half won’t hurt so much. Getting out of bed is like trying to walk right out of surgery. On good days come the dreaded rituals: Brushing teeth, showering, on a great day perhaps a shave.

Coffee just stimulates the pain, not the mood, but you drink it anyway. You sit and stare at the walls, too tired to move, go out, stay in, or even look around. You don’t care, and you don’t care that you don’t care. You’re falling, and you’re just too exhausted to try holding on any longer. Imagine spiraling down a hole, ever so slowly – A hole with no end, no destination, just a general direction downward.

Do you know what I mean? Because if you don’t, I am just not going be able to tell it to you so that you understand. And those people at the edge, up top, they look down and shake their heads and tell you to just get up and just go for a walk and just do this and just do that and it hurts so much more because they all remind you how alone you are because they just don’t know what you’re feeling because if they did they wouldn’t say those things and so it must be me and I’m the only crazy one in this sea of stuff and….and….

After a few moments there’s the daily Council meeting in your head. Each day it forms a consensus, comes back in the room and declares the results, one more time: “Mr. Secretary, please read the minutes of today’s meeting: ‘You are worthless, you are nothing; you are nobody. You never have and never will make a damn bit of difference in this world. In fact your very presence makes it worse. You don’t deserve to be here. You are a pathetic loser – Just look at yourself.’ Meeting adjourned.” And you read the email from the guy who tells you to “Have a nice day.”

If anyone else said those things to you you would promptly show them the door – wouldn’t you? Or you’d hit him or yell or find some way to defend yourself. But here, when it comes from your own head – your own brain – you just sit down, pour another cup of coffee, and listen. You listen and nod and you have nothing to say in your own defense. You believe they are right. And then when they are done reading you today’s minutes, you’re supposed to go out and be in the world. “Don’t worry – be happy;” “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be;” “Think positive;” “Be grateful for what you have.” And so on. I know exactly what you would like to say to them all.

Welcome to the club. Open to members of all creeds, races, nationalities, cultures and religions. And contrary to popular Western belief, membership is not only involuntary but not at all correlated with wealth, with your stuff. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, sick, well, married, single, homeless or in a palace. You may not believe me, I know – But I have examples. I have the list. I can prove it to you. It’s so hard to believe because we have been trained to think with the template “If only I …;”  Fill in the blank – “Had a love,” “had a better job,” “was single,” “was married,” “had a family,” “had more money,” “didn’t have this disease,” “wasn’t so fat,” “wasn’t so thin,” “looked better in these pants,” “had abs like him,” “hair like her,” “had hair,” and so on ad nauseam.

Then, THEN, THEN you become attached to the depression itself!  It becomes part of you; it defines you. After awhile it feels like an old friend, or the spouse that you can’t divorce just because you can’t fathom life without them. It blinds us to our choices and makes us attach ourselves to it. Resistance only feeds it and makes it worse. It forces us to feed it and the more we feed it the more powerful it gets. And then of all things we invite it to sit down and join us for our morning coffee and to accompany us throughout the day.

Maybe you come from a Ward and June family (If you’re under 50 look it up). There was more than enough love to go around. No alcoholism. No violence. Family vacations, help with homework, kindness, compassion and understanding; yet you still can’t remember how many times you wished you were dead, or at least thought about it; or that you wished you were someone else. A five year-old hides under his bed, thinking about death. He seeks comfort in his parents, and they gave it. But the effects are so short-lived and the monster never leaves. At least not for long. So you’re either in it or you’re waiting for it. And they told you that “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”

As you get older you try therapy, exercise, hobbies, travel, self-help books, medication, you name it. But always the effects were short-lived. The only thing that came close to helping, that actually made the blues go away for just a little while was that bottle of Jack Daniels in front of you. But then that eventually make things worse. A LOT worse. It will feed the depression and it will get you a first class ticket into a mental hospital, prison, a spot under the bridge with a can of Sterno, or just a quicker death. But thinking about that – I mean imagining all that – It doesn’t matter, does it? You don’t really care right now, do you?

What we think of as “love” is the biggest scapegoat of all. We attribute our depression to not having someone, or someone leaving us by going away. Or by finding out that s/he was never really there in the first place. Most people I meet seem to get that “money won’t buy happiness.” What they don’t get is that neither will love. Sorry folks, I hate to break it to you, but finding that Mr./Ms. Right is not going to make you happy if you ain’t happy now.

True happiness – I mean serenity, not ha-ha-happiness – is inversely proportional to expectations. The word for “expectation” and “hope” is the same in some languages. If you know depression, not just sadness but the bleak darkness of true depression, then you know what I mean. If you know depression then you know why you’ll grasp at anything – a person, a drug, sex, a sport, a job, your smartphone, a thrill – just to not feel it for a few moments. But the moments end. Always too soon. And we go on living and reaching for those tiny spaces where the clouds have yet to pass that day but we just can’t quite make it…..