Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

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Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Postby JLMcCafferty » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:34 pm

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Remember, I’m pullin’ for ya. We’re all in this together.

So goes the closing line for one of the regular segments of the Red Green show, and the words have been reverberating in my mind a lot as of late. Part of it is just the time of year: the days are cold and dark, the flu is going around, and everyone (well, most people) are trying to juggle the normal stresses of work and life with the added stress of holiday obligations. The feeling of wanting to hide in bed and sleep until March is a fairly common complaint at the moment. I at present don’t have the day job factor, and though I’d planned for this interim period and made sure to keep busy (first with being in England for a month and then with tackling the plethora of house and creative projects), not having the normal Monday through Friday work week has been a lot weirder than I’d expected. I am not one of those people who should be left to their own devices for too long, and doubly so if (like for the past five days) I’m sick and spending a good chunk of time in bed thinking about things.

Thanksgiving, in particular, is a rough time for me. Though it’s heavily touted as my favorite holiday now, it takes on a new dimension when one realizes that favoritism was created by an obsessive desire to eradicate the nightmarish memories I had of it growing up. I mean, who doesn’t want to remember the year they watched their mother get smashed through a window, or forced to gather her children around and sob about how she was a whore because someone else had made a pass at her and somehow that was her fault? Never mind that nothing came of it, it was clearly important that she serve as an example to her 9- and 8-year-old daughters that things that happen to them are their fault no matter what.

Those aren’t even the worst memories. Don’t get me started about Christmas – a combination of alcohol, the present joy of my sister’s children, and an agreed-upon selective memory are the only things that keep my siblings and me from standing around Grinchlike on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos. No one in their right mind would blame me for being bitter, especially when the holly, jolly festivities of the season, which advertisers will mercilessly remind you are “a time for family,” can be a hideously cruel reminder to people who don’t have stable or loving families. Not everybody’s life gets to be merry and bright. For some people, it takes a Christmas miracle just to get through the day. That’s why I use this as a time to remember and be thankful for all the tiny ways people have shown their support, and to reach out to make sure people know how much those things meant. I can’t change how those early memories came about, but I can replace them with something good and positive and meaningful. And if it makes someone else smile, all the better.

Early in my college days, during one of my many failed attempts at finding someone I could open up to, one of the counselors at my university thought it would help if she pointed out that I wasn’t alone. Could I find some solace, she thought, in the knowledge that a lot of the feelings I had and the experiences I went through were shared by a surprising amount of other people? She meant well, but it did not make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel a hell of a lot worse. There are memories I hold that I will never, ever speak of. Some are so horrifying I forced myself to forget. I’m okay with there being blank spots in that narrative. What I’m not okay with is the idea that I should be okay because other people had also gone through similarly traumatizing experiences. I remember leaving her office that day with the sobering realization that justice at a societal level was a pipe dream even loftier than world peace. I was so horrified both at that revelation and the placating normalization the counselor exhibited that I never went back.

These are the things I don’t talk about. I made the decision a long time ago that those weren’t going to be the factors that defined me, and so that wasn’t the narrative I wanted to tell. But that doesn’t mean the story didn’t exist, nor does it mean that story has no effect on the present one. I can see how that background has pushed me forward in some areas and held me back in others. I can see how it’s effected my leadership, both in good ways and bad. I can see how it planted deep trust issues that affect my relationships, and confidence issues that resulted in my not taking a lot of chances I should have. I can see how it’s stymied my creativity and given me cause to hold myself back when I could have been moving forward. I thought for a very long time that I could bury all of it and rise above, but here’s the thing: If a roof has a leak in it, you might be able to ignore it for a while. But if the issue isn’t dealt with, what starts off as slipping a bucket under a drip eventually turns into the whole roof rotting away and caving in on itself.

Keeping with that analogy, repairing a roof is not a one-person job. And this is where Red’s reminder keeps popping into my mind: we’re all in this together. There’s serious power in the idea of togetherness. People tend to be braver when they don’t feel alone. Victories are more meaningful when others share in them. When you have enough people with similar goals and values coming together, serious change is possible (for better or for worse). Never underestimate the power of togetherness.

Togetherness, or the value of it, is why I’m sharing this right now. As much as I want the world to be a kinder and softer place than it is, it’s not, and I’m definitely not alone in facing those harsh realities. Life is insanely hard, which is why it’s so important to remember to be kind to one another, to find and nurture the relationships that add value, and to make sure that those people hear about the impact they’ve made. Because trust me, everybody is fighting battles in their own head, and in a year as uproarious as 2017 has been, a lot of times it was those little things, and only those little things, that kept us going. When my personal powder keg exploded in May and I stopped writing, it was a private note of inquiry a few months later from an acquaintance that got me sketching plot outlines again. The speeches my students delivered our last night at campus validated everything I’d hoped to achieve as an educator and proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt, I’d made the right choice coming out here all those years ago. The countless kindnesses I received during my month in England reinforced the assertion that whatever, and wherever, I decide to pursue next, I will be just fine.

Because I’m not alone anymore. We’re all in this together.


THREE THINGS I’M LISTENING TO ON REPEAT: When I Fall In Love (instrumental), Blue Mitchell; Polka Dots and Moonbeams, John Coltrane; Look On Down From The Bridge, Mazzy Star
Thoughts? Comments? Hate mail? Get the conversation started on the comments thread below, by email at jen.mccafferty@rivalcastmedia.com, or @BaronessvGosu on the Tweeter
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