A Parenthetical Life

What exists between brackets is an odd collection of addenda and afterthoughts, of accidentals and coincidentals. Bookended by parentheses, em-dashes, and pages of drama and comedy in the history of the universe as it plays out are tiny dust-motes and cobwebs, and hidden in these, all of the second fiddles, bit players, and walk-ons who create the background of the scene almost without being noticed.

It’s that almost, though, through which we ‘members of the company’ enter into the action. We may sneak, erupt, or even fall backwards through the portals, but without us, the action can grind to a halt and intermission become interminable. If a night janitor doesn’t unlock the executive washroom when the evening’s repairs on it are finished, the dyspeptic CEO might be late to that morning meeting wherein he was supposed to sign papers finalizing the corporation’s lucrative sale. If the pest inspector doesn’t notice that one little corner of the house’s foundation has a few carpenter ants surveying it hungrily, in a short while the home will be in ruins. If the air traffic controller, invisible in her tower, delays the landing of a medivac helicopter for a moment too long, the patient waiting for his heart transplant dies. So much potential lies in the smallest acts or failures-to-act.

A tombstone or obituary won’t determine my worth. Headlines and spotlights won’t, either. Most of us crave a sense of being valued and wanted, even if we don’t desire fame—but many will never know what genuine impact they’ve had on others, or others on them, being unsung and unannounced. I am at peace with that. I firmly believe that if we are to be judged, it won’t fall to the people immediately around, to a popular vote, or to any authority present on the planet to determine our impact, or more specifically, our value.

I, for one, will keep lurking and living in the interstices between the stars, content in doing and being my generally invisible best, modest as that might be. When I’m gone, others will fill in the gaps. And probably do so with better style and grace, having learned from my traipsing across the stage, lines or no lines. That’s my role, to set the stage for the starring actors and support their grander parts in history.

(Yes, even if my character remains forever nameless on the marquee.)

Photo: Plumbing the Depths

Not needing to blow my own horn doesn’t mean I’m not a necessary part of the show.


digital illustrationIt’s especially nice, when I’ve caught myself wallowing in self-denigration and insecurity for a bit, to think on those things that actually, really, truly are pretty darn good about me. It’s no sin to appreciate the gifts we’ve been given, and their relative smallness in comparison to others’, as there are always people for whom we have [possibly unwarranted] adulation as exemplars of all those things we long to be, is irrelevant. Safe to say that every one of those great and mighty high achievers has some hidden insecurity and certainly, all have imperfections. Our inability to see those reflects more on our own worries and wishes than on who anyone else genuinely is.

So I go off looking at the astonishingly skillful artistry of others and am ashamed at how little I’ve accomplished in my artistic life thus far and feel inadequate and cheap, and sulk for a moment or two, and then I need to pick up my tools and get back to work and remember that I do this, to be fair, for the love and joy of doing it, not because I need to impress somebody. And I remind myself that despite my ordinariness, I am in my own way new and improved in comparison to where I started my artistic journey.

The same holds true for looking at others’ writing, cooking, gardening, housekeeping, home decorating, DIY projects, you name it. If there’s anything I do that I wish I were better at doing—and anything worth doing is worth getting better at doing, no?—the reason I have such a wish is that I know I’m far from the best, and I can only know how far I am from the best if there are others leading me there by example. In fairness to my meager position in the relative scheme of things, I need to recognize that most experts spent a tremendous amount of time and energy becoming the avatars that they are, that if I did think I were nearly perfect at anything it would be foolish and delusional and hubristic and, well, tiresome, and that I do improve over time, if not quite at the rate I would fondly hope I could.

This is not a pity party for Poor Little Me, lest you be misled by my maundering start: it’s a self-reminder that I am very fortunate, and yes, a little bit gifted, too. My gifts may not be the kind that were evident from my birth and improved exponentially over a shining, prodigious span of growth and productivity and marvelous output. But incremental growth and modest gifts can be celebrated, too, and since I have no need for fame or (however pleasing I may find the idea of it) wealth, it matters none whether anyone else celebrates them. That they do, and indeed, tell me so, is a kindness and brings the kind of wealth and fame that have a far greater value than the more worldly sort, when I accept them wholeheartedly.

I know I’m not the greatest of or at anything. But I like who and what I am and think I’m on a slow upward incline regarding what I do, and that’s reason enough to hold up my chin and puff out my chest a little and march on forward with a smile on my face and my head held high. I’ll bet you could do it, too, even if you merely do so by letting yourself believe what the people who love and respect you tell you. They don’t love and respect and admire you for no reason at all, and who are you to question your admirers’ integrity! Go ahead, own up to being the new and improved you. Preen a little. You deserve it.

So I’m not that Impressive–but I’m not above Pretending, either

Our Own Heroics

Our history is riddled with the tangled lines of man and myth,

Lines blurred by our conception of ourselves and powers that are with

All spirits, in our being; juxtaposed with this our creeping sense

That maybe, possibly, there might be Something greater, more immense–line drawingThe whole idea, if we be honest, sets a chill on every skin

That makes each want to change the balance, name himself the paladin,

The master, royalty, creator of all good in this our sphere,

So we can worship our fine selves in glorious beauty without fear–

digital artworkEvery culture, every era, each community has shown

That we wish inside, mere humans, that what’s fancied and what’s known

Were no grander than our smallness, so we’ve always tried to make

Ourselves the gods, the overmasters, even if it’s clearly fake–

digital artworkPretty masks and big stone statues, crown and crypt, elixir, spell;

We’ll try anything we think can make us kings of heaven, hell,

Or earthly realm–but here’s the problem: it looks great, but just a touch

Too great–it turns out we’re grand, but not for long, and not so much.

Waiting–for What? For Whom?

digital artwork from a vintage photo

Her Champion

By the light of the window, pale and solemn, quiet, reticent,

She sat and gazed, the age-old tale of waiting, in this variant

Not for a lover or for change that was supposed to bring her hope–

No, but for something passing strange: a subtly altered isotope

Or subatomic shift of sorts that would reveal to her at last

That she was whole, and all reports that indicated in the past

She’d fallen, lost, or failed, or died were clearly false and incorrect;

That anything she chose or tried was incomplete in that respect–

What she awaited, delicate and silent in her ray of light,

Was just this news she ought to get: already she was fine, was bright,

Was loveable and brave and keen and capable as one could need

Or hope to be; by this I mean just that she was quite great indeed.

If you wait validation too, and sit in patience for the news

To be presented thus to you, get up! There’s not a breath to lose,

For simply knowing that your soul already harbors strength and worth

Is proof enough that you are whole; no greater treasure lives on earth:

Rise from the ashes of your fears, wake up from timid, silent gaze,

And race like a runner, months and years stuffed into the space of weeks, of days

Because your courage speeds and grows–leap forward! No more waiting: run!

And as joyful living overflows, you’ll find you were the awaited one.

Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . *


. . . Think I’m Gonna Go Eat Worms! [Note: no actual worms were harmed in the making of this photograph.]

Yes, it may be true that no man is an island–we all depend on others far more than we even recognize or comprehend–but conversely, every one of us is his or her own unique and seemingly isolated version of Three Mile Island at times when it comes to having personal meltdowns. It starts right at birth, when most of us scream and complain at having been removed from that ever-so-pleasant resort and spa, Mom’s innards, and ejected unwittingly and unwillingly into the cold, cruel world, and it continues, however sporadically, throughout our lives. We are such fragile creatures.

The majority of humans, happily, are not subject to this dark reality for too large a percentage of our lives, but it’s more common than is commonly discussed that we have trials, tribulations and the varying degrees of inability to cope with them that make us question, if not our sanity, then certainly our ability to rise above what’s bad, get a grasp on the good, and move forward regardless of feeling worthy or curable. Depression truly sucks–not just in the vernacular, but in the sense of pulling one down into a bottomless abyss like an evil and irresistible vortex.

I’m not referring, of course, to ordinary grief or sadness. We all get hit by those monsters at times. We flounder, we suffer, we recover. It may be deep and painful and take a long time to rebound from sorrows of even the most normal sort, but we do, eventually, learn how to go on living and being and take part in the doings of the world. Generally, that sort of difficulty or tragedy even tends to gradually heighten the sense and appreciation of what is good and joyful once we’ve experienced and survived the dark and can see the shining contrast of even a modest pleasure with what appeared insurmountably grim from its midst. True clinical, chemical, physiological depression, well, that’s a different thing.

It resists the most persuasive and intelligent logic. It batters self-worth and love in the most brilliant, gifted and accomplished sufferers. It tears at relationships of any sort with other people or with action, with one’s wit and will to survive. If it doesn’t make one outright, actively suicidal, it can simply kill through atrophy and attrition: sufferers have described the state of longing intensely to kill themselves but having no strength or energy to do so.

Why would I talk of such dire and dreary and horrid stuff, even think of it at all? Because I am reminded sometimes of when I used to be there. My worst bout of depression was perhaps aided and abetted by various situational and temporal aggravations, including the typical catalysts and intensifiers of real-world health and happiness threats: the onset of my spasmodic dysphonia, job problems, the murder of our good friend. These were of course widely different in intensity and timing, but to someone like me, their interaction with my evidently wonky endocrine system or whatever combined forces of chemical and biological imbalance were building in me meant that when I hit bottom, no amount of thoughtful and heartfelt reasoning with myself could ‘fix’ me or my situation.

I am one of the true Lucky Ones. I finally felt so brain-fogged, so unable to resist the pull of that deadly sucking, enervating, soul-destroying feeling of pointlessness and ugliness and being unlovable and incapable of doing anything meaningful or good–well, I got so needy that I actually let others help me. That was it. The only way out of the hole was to grip the hands reaching in toward me and let them do all of the work of pulling me out. Part of it was accepting these helpers’ assurances that they did indeed believe in me and in how I felt, that they loved me and knew that I had worth and potential. Part was letting others lead me around and taking their advice and simply letting go of what little shreds of ego I had left enough to say that I would do better in following an educated and experienced prescription for improvement than I’d been doing on my ever-weakening own two feet. And a part that was essential for me was loosening my grip on my insistence that taking prescribed treatment–both psychological and chemical–without trying to create or control it myself was a sign of weakness or failure. It took, in fact, all of my strength and intelligence to recognize that any strength and intelligence I had couldn’t save me.

The luck involved is clearly that together we (my caregivers–medical and personal–and I) did find the combination of therapeutic treatments, behavioral changes and chemical re-balancing medication that not only unlocked my present emergency state of depressive existence but ultimately proved to let me feel fully, wholly myself for the first time in my life. I know that this is not a cure but an ongoing process for as long as I live. And, having lived both ways, I am more than happy to take on that responsibility. It’s a privilege.

What’s most beautiful of all, for me, is that when it happens (as it has in this last couple of weeks) that several occurrences and situations conspire to remind me of this my past and how it shaped my present life and self, it also reawakens in me the profound gratitude for all of those complex minutiae that converged so miraculously well as to make this life possible. To make my continued existence at all possible, perhaps, but particularly such a happy me. What seemed like the most disastrous and irreparable of confluences instead conspired to make just the right blend at the right moment that finally offered me a rescue.

Turns out that eating worms is the very nourishment that makes some birds healthy enough to sing their hearts out with the pure delight of existing. Last week I was out walking and saw a ditch full of drowned worms, lured into and killed by stormy waters. This week I was walking the same route and the sky was filled with the most spectacular warbling, chirruping, musical bird songs I could hope to hear. Coincidence? Very possibly not.digital illustration from a photo

(* from the old campfire song Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . )