Exile On Meh Street

The week before Thanksgiving is usually a time of the year I love. Lots of dark overcast days, the temps drop, and the thought of having a four-day weekend coming up helped me push through those final, few work days. And in year’s past I would typically take the whole week off. Take a whole five days to get the house cleaned up, buy what food items I’d need to prepare the side dishes that would match perfectly with the bird my parents would prepare and bring over for the family feast. Of course there would be Black Friday Record Store Day to revel in as well once the vinyl bug hit me.

I’m not a “believer”, so Christmas has always felt like I was pretending. First, as a kid I was celebrating for gifts under the tree. I did enjoy watching mom and dad open their gifts from me; mom her obligatory bottle of Jean Nate by Revlon and dad a shirt, or later on a cassette of some sort. I liked that feeling of giving something, even if they were both with me and helped me pick out the gift for the other. But the rest of it? Nah. That’s why Thanksgiving was always so important to me. No expectations of gifts and a baby in a manger. It was just getting together eating great food, dessert, enjoying each other’s company, and relying on conversation to get us through the day.

But with just a week and a day to go to my favorite holiday of the year I’m feeling pretty empty. I’m feeling aimless. I’ve been feeling this way for some time now, maybe even for months. The everyday groove has gotten old to me. I feel like there’s just not enough time in the day for me to fill that creative chasm inside. I find myself worrying about things that haven’t happened yet instead of living in the moment. Contemplating a jobless future in just a couple year’s time(if that is still on schedule). That one goes from excitement to existential dread at the drop of a hat. I’m ready for something new. I’m ready to be done being a cog in the medical industry. By the time the doors are locked I’ll have been doing this for over 30 years. That’s a long time do the same thing, regardless whether you love or loathe your work. My dad worked at the same job for 50 years, starting when he was 17 and retiring at 67. I don’t think I have that sort of stamina or patience. I thought I did 10, 15 years ago. I thought the ultimate goal was to work at this job till I retired, but now that sounds like the death of my soul. Them closing our plant and moving it to the People’s Republic of China, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica might just be the best thing to happen to me and my sanity(or maybe the death of me.)

Either way, it’s a void I feel staring back at me more and more.

I’m also feeling the weight of an empty house. The kids all grown up doing their thing, with one getting ready to move into an apartment with her boyfriend in a little over two weeks the getting older thing that used to never bother is starting to feel a little “stingy”. I still think I’m a better older person than I was a younger person, but the weight of time itself is giving me back pains. It feels like a literal weight, as opposed to a philosophical one. I’m beginning to feel much like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time. A Thanksgiving in 1985 feels as close as one in 2015. There are times I contemplate the transition from child to parent and its as if I can almost see time sort of blurring between then and there. There’s a voice saying “Don’t contemplate that stuff too much, you may just crack the code and then it’s all done.” It’s not a literal voice. I know it’s just me telling my brain to stop with all the mental beat downs. But there are times where I can really feel that nostalgia trip going from good to really heavy.

One day last week I was at work and I decided to listen to some of my old music. I hit up my Bandcamp page and began listening to songs I wrote and recorded 10, 15 years ago. I found myself impressed by what that younger self had accomplished, writing and recording these songs in his free time, in-between a full time job, being a husband and dad to three kids, and even getting some workouts in almost daily. I wondered where in the hell did that guy have time for all of that? I don’t have nearly the busy schedule as that younger self and I can barely strum a guitar twice a week. But then I started thinking how much did that guy miss that was happening upstairs with three little kids while he was downstairs making music for no one but himself.

Nostalgia turned sour, man.

They say idle hands are the devil’s play thing, but an idle brain is so much worse. Hands are tools, while the brain is the Supreme Overlord controlling them. It can tell those hands to cook dinner, play a guitar, draw a picture, or punch yourself in the face. But the brain needs not use physical violence to hurt you. No sir, all it needs to do is pull out the photo album stacked away on a dusty shelf in your noggin and let you check out past memories and remind you what you did wrong. That hurts far worse than a punch to the head. Reminiscing isn’t always a bad thing, but you take the risk of going from wistful reminiscing to maudlin and melancholy.

Flip the coin, see how it lands.

Yesterday I got home from work and pulled all my music stuff out of the craft room upstairs that was once my 19-year old’s bedroom. My wife took it over once she moved out and turned it into a sewing room. She gave me a little bit of the real estate to set up a music spot so I didn’t have to go downstairs and work. I was feeling uninspired down there anymore and figured some sunlight would let the seeds of creativity bloom. I did write an instrumental album up there over the course of the summer, but since then I just don’t have anything left in the tank. I then got all excited about practicing guitar in there and was doing that, but not at the regularity I’d hoped. So yesterday I made the choice to move all that out of there and back downstairs. I set up my desk top in the room instead and have decided to try the whole podcast thing again. I sat in the chair mumbling and clearing my throat for 25 or so minutes just to see if I could get something recorded on the website(it’s a all-in-one kind of thing owned by Spotify.) My middle-aged, technologically-disadvantaged brain did get it to work. I need to do some research on editing on the site so I can use song snippets and cut all the blank spots, throat clearing, and “umms” out so that after all the cutting and splicing the 20 minute vocal meandering will go to about 7 minutes.

My 19-year old told me the other day that she loves my artwork and asked if I’d make her something. Of course I would. I asked what she had in mind and she said “Anything!” So now I’m trying to figure out what I want to do for her. She’s moving into a new apartment, so it can be a Christmas gift/housewarming gift. After about a week of thinking about it I think I know what I want to do. I need to sit down and draw it out, then I’m going to paint it on a canvas. Now, it’s just a matter of doing it. One more thing to beat myself up over I guess. I know once I start it I’ll be fine, but since I don’t consider myself that great of an artist I put a heaping pile of doubt over the proceedings. I shouldn’t be worried. She’s seen my work, and on the basis of that she wants something I’ve made. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

It’s been a long couple years. So many things have shifted, phased in, phased out, and it’s just a lot to wrap my head around. I know these are changes every parent goes through, and every middle-aged human goes through. We all handle it differently. Some buy sports cars, some take up racquetball, some jog; while others start partying and acting like the 20 something they once were(or maybe never were.) Me? I guess I just crawl up into my body’s attic and start going through boxes marked “childhood”, “parenting”, and “shoulda, woulda, coulda” as Nilsson’s “Remember(Christmas)” plays over the loudspeaker.

I think I’m still just catching up from two years ago when the world seemed uncertain and a little scary. We were insulated that year, our household. We were all locked up in our home together. While most of the world felt trapped and wanted to break out from lockdown, we grew closer as a family. We enjoyed each other’s company. The kids finished school from home, and my wife worked from home. Family breakfasts became the norm before the start of the work and school day. I’d get home knowing the house was full, warm, and everything seemed in their right place. Two years later we survived a global pandemic and we’re once again free to roam the earth as we see fit. I still feel I’m in that lockdown mode. I’m still figuring out whether I want to step back into the world. Maybe that’s my problem. I can’t figure out how everyone around me moved on and out, and I’m still in the house waiting for the all clear.

I’ll figure it out. I’ll pick up the guitar again and enjoy the sound of buzzing strings and power chords. I’ll get the painting done in time for Christmas for my daughter. The brain will stop buzzing so much and I think I’ll get back to enjoying stepping out of the house. Someday. This has just been an extended rut I guess. Tires spinning in the muck and mire of life. Without the muck and mire we can’t appreciate all those open miles of smooth road and a beautiful horizon in the hazy, clear distance. I’ll get it worked out.

Maybe I’ll do a podcast about it.

4 thoughts on “Exile On Meh Street

  1. complex distractions, for sure! but seriously, take the mask off (no longer required). and yes, you’ll figure it out– you have one week on the turkey dinner, roughly 6 weeks on the christmas “painting,” and 2 years on the job-front. i have the utmost faith in you.

    Liked by 1 person

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