As an experiment, I put together a soundtrack for this post.
It’s another night where something aches. My knee. My ankle. My knuckles. My back. No matter how I sit, stand, lay, there’s some dull, faint throbbing. Not just my body. There’s a diffuse ache in whatever I am that is not just body. I love my family, I care deeply about my friends, but I can’t quite get comfortable. I put it out of my mind, or I notice it, nod to it, and go about my business, but it’s always there, like the feeling of late summer or early fall when you know that after the good weather another winter’s coming on.
I crave something, a creative outlet. I crave the sense that I feel when I remember moments from bands I was in: the times at practice when we wrote songs, or better, just played and it really clicked; that show in the basement when everyone danced and sang along even though they had never heard us before, the intense feeling of connecting – of feeling ourselves moving closer together – as we talked during the highway drives. My current creative activities don’t measure up at all by comparison. Of course, I am to a large extent simply misremembering times from when I was young as if they were better than they were, because I’m uncomfortable about getting older. The bands I was in didn’t measure up to their best moments either; I know that when I remember these moments I am nostalgically editing, picking moments without taking the processes that created them. That best basement show? I started the night pissed off at everyone else over what happened while carrying in our equipment, setting up our table, watching the other bands play. The really good band practices were few and far between. The good conversations were short compared to all the driving, the road food, all the fuck ups.
Part of the issue with what I want and lack is to do with what’s going on in my life. I have many responsibilities and relationships that require time so that I am less able to devote myself to efforts than I used to be. I can’t imagine really being in a band right now. And while my responsibilities and relationships are rewarding and important and I would not trade them for this thing that I miss, they are not what I am describing, they do not provide what I miss.
I write a lot now, nonfiction pretty much exclusively. If I stop and think about it, I feel proud at the volume of output (as a friend said recently, “you are one prolific dude”) and that I’ve managed to do this and I feel like I’ve figured out some things I didn’t have figured out before, and in a relatively short period of time. I like the sense of accomplishment, but here too that’s not quite the itch I want scratched. I don’t know why but I have a sense that part of the issue is the medium I work in as well. It’s a dry medium, at least as I do it. Part of the issue is also the way and where I do it; there are things in my life that I want to write about but I am not ready to do so openly online where they might be found with my name on it. I could do so privately on my own, or do so anonymously online and so as alone as one can be online, but that doesn’t quite scratch the itch – or at least one of the itches – as I want to write in conversation with others. I do want to write about some experience and dynamics in my life, to think out what’s happening and has happened, to gain some of the feeling of control and distance that writing brings, and to try to make something of all this rather than merely experience it (and yes, I realize the problems with this orientation toward one’s life and feelings). That sort of writing would be less dry, but less pleasant to produce, so I don’t do it, not right now. I think about writing fiction or other less dry writing but am intimidated and inhibited, and I realize that taking up fiction writing seriously is like taking up another instrument. I don’t want to do it poorly, I want to do it well, with devotion and discipline, and this is not the time in my life for further devotion and discipline. Someday. Not now. There’s not enough gas in the tank for more, given what else I am committed to. I know this will pass eventually, I need to just take it slow and get through this phase of my life.
Sometimes though in moments of small desperation, hoping for that sense of group connection and shared activity I sometimes try to launch conversations, like paper boats in a flooded gutter after a rainstorm. They sail poorly, take on water, capsize. The friends and co-workers I rant to nod politely and don’t engage, or the conversation doesn’t quite click, or they change the subject wearing “you are ranting” on their face. I worry these desperate acts make me look like a fool. Or, fearing failure, I don’t launch conversations, don’t fold the paper to make the boat. Neither works, and after either I feel frustration creep over me.
With my dry nonfiction writing, some people I respect and like read it and like it and that matters to me and I feel respected and valued. I am grateful for that, I know people who don’t feel that way, I remember not feeling that way, and I am blessed to have this respect and feeling of value in my life. Still, even then, I feel in the grip of a kind of creative inertia. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but I don’t currently much crave respect and being valued. Or rather, the main craving I live with is a different one than a craving for respect and being valued. Being complimented on my writing is sweet, but it’s incomplete: I don’t miss people saying this or that thing to me, I miss a kind of collective doing together.
I do miss playing music, but more fundamentally music is an expression or version of a deeper way of being in the world that I miss. What I miss most, and why the music memories and nostalgia make sense, because music is probably where I most notably experienced this and am most able to explain it, is the feeling of being in sync with other people in time, as part of a process which all at once drove me to work harder and immediately provided me with an enjoyable activity: a combination of group relationships, hard work, and play, simultaneously. The closest I’ve come to this in a long time was rock climbing with some friends before my last bad injury. Due to that injury, I haven’t climbed in a while, I’m still recovery. Organizing has sometimes provided this same feeling. Organizing is a kind of collective relationship of this same sort. For a variety of reasons I’m not active in organizing in a meaningful way at this point.
Currently I have relationships that encourage discipline and productivity, I have friendships, I goof around, but the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. I miss that greater sum. It’s a collective relationship that inspires different relationships to myself, the discipline of working on craft and skills in order to be better prepared for and better able to contribute to the collective effort – and it’s fun.
I find wisps of this sensation, this way of acting together with others, momentarily in collaborating with friends on their writing, that is probably the closest I get to that sense of being in a band, and it’s a faint shadow. I’ve experienced this sense of being in a band before with writing, it can be done, but I don’t think it can be done by me now, currently in my life.
This sense of craving is unpleasant but it’s a bearable unpleasance, a normal friction, a developmentally appropriate discomfort, which I believe will end. After this tunnel, there is a light. In the meantime I will try to prepare as best I can for the next time I’m in some kind of band, whether the musical or writing or rock climbing or whatever kind, and to combine discipline, productivity, and fun. And to relax, rest, recover. And devote myself to the other pursuits and people that I’m currently devoted to and which are (and I say this sincerely) genuinely more important and what I really do prefer to devote my time and energy to.
(Inspired by Stan Weir’s “I am lonely.”)