I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Leo Kottke in concert the other day at a lovely little venue in Seattle called Demetriou’s Jazz Alley. I’ve written about Kottke before. He’s a supreme talent. I highly recommend that you see him if given the opportunity.
He intersperses his amazing music with stories that are often every bit as good. On this night, though, he said something that kind of made me sad. I’m paraphrasing here, but he mentioned that he tours alone and he lives alone, so talking to us is really his only social life.
He was half joking. But the man is 73 years old. The thought of that level of loneliness is kind of heartbreaking.
That got me thinking. There’s really nothing that corelates with loneliness. You certainly can’t tell by looking at a person. Kottke is talented, active, still touring. He’s led a successful life. None of that staves off loneliness.
You can be rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, smart or stupid, kind or cruel… and yet none of that prevents or encourages loneliness. It’s like there’s no real way to thwart it. There’s no loneliness vaccine.
You can do your best to spend time with other people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll befriend you. You can be active in your community, but that doesn’t mean anyone will want to spend time with you. You can dedicate your life to caring for others, but still, there’s no guarantee that anyone will care for you.
A lot of people are lonely in a crowd. So loneliness doesn’t even corelate with isolation. Loneliness stands alone. That’s scary as hell, if you ask me.
What’s the special sauce that prevents loneliness? I haven’t a clue. I’d love to hear your thoughts. The only thing I know is that we need to reach out to one another. We really do.
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I had the distinct honor of participating in a reception for The Healing Center the other day. It’s a grief support community here in Seattle that is a welcoming and safe place to express your feelings of loss. They have been wonderfully helpful and understanding to me.
The reception, which is held annually, is called Healing Hearts. It is an opportunity for people to show the creative ways they have of expressing their grief. I have to say, this is quite a talented crowd. There were poets and writers there, and singer/songwriters and musicians and photographers as well. I was really pleased to be included in their number.
My main takeaway from this event was that there are so many ways to express one’s emotions. In fact, that’s what art is, really: a way to reveal what is inside you. That’s why the arts are so vital to any healthy culture.
I truly believe that it’s very important to open yourself up. Your inner self needs to see the light of day in order to thrive. Things should not be bottled up, lest they fester. And that’s what communities like The Healing Center are all about.
If you are experiencing grief, you do not have to go through it alone. Seek out the equivalent of The Healing Center in your community.
If you’ve lost someone you love, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. All those memories. All those traditions. All those people, still alive, who insist that you to carry on all those traditions.
How can you be expected to decorate a tree when every ornament reminds you of the person you’ve lost? And it takes so much energy to put on a brave face at family gatherings. I know more than a few people this year who were forced to retreat to the bathroom to weep.
There is a great deal of pressure at this time of the year to be joyful. That makes your utter lack of joy feel even worse. And no one wants you to figuratively (or literally) pee in their eggnog. “Can’t you see we’re trying to fa la la here? Don’t ruin it!”
And then there are the well-meaning gifts, designed to memorialize the one who is gone. They were given in a spirit of love and support, but they feel like little stabs to your already wounded heart. No one knows the right thing to say or do, because there is no right thing to say or do.
Even in a good year, the holidays can be exhausting. But they seem positively soul-sucking when you’re dragging around a tractor trailer of depression. It makes you feel detached at a time when everyone is coming together.
For me, it’s like having to take a huge breath and plunge into the ocean, in hopes of coming back to the surface again before you drown. That was Thanksgiving. That was Christmas. That was my birthday. What a relief to get through it all and come up for air!
One more to go… the dreaded New Year’s midnight, when no one will be kissing me. I’m supposed to overlook the fact that I’m completely and utterly alone. I’m supposed to feel happy for everyone who is being kissed. I’m supposed to look forward to the new year, and feel nostalgic about the past year.
That’s a heck of a lot to ask. I’ll probably try to go to bed at 11 pm and hope the neighborhood revelry doesn’t wake me up. While you sing Auld Lang Syne, I’ll be trying really hard to pretend it’s any other night.
If you know people who are grieving, ask them what they’d like to do or not do for the holidays. Ask them what they want to talk about or not talk about. Don’t apply pressure. If they are ready, offer to help them create a whole new tradition, perhaps one in which dancing and romance aren’t flaunted.
But most of all, be patient. And don’t force your fa la la on them until they can get through it without weeping in the bathroom.
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When a heavy cloak of depression settles down upon my shoulders, I tend to feel as if life has passed me by. I start to ask myself what the point could possibly be, and when I’m unable to answer that question I give up hope, and start resigning myself to my fate. Why even try? When I’m in that awful mind-space I genuinely believe that nothing good or new or exciting will ever happen to me again. Ever. And I’ll spend the rest of my life alone. Forever.
And then I proceed to catch up on my sleep.
What usually snaps me out of this mindset is either planning something that I can look forward to, or a heaping helping of reality. That reality usually takes on the form of an event that shows me how erroneous my thought process is. In other words, I get embarrassed out of my depression.
First of all, relatively speaking, my life is pretty darned good. It takes but a minute to read stories of how nasty, brutish and short the average human life can be. For example, how can I possibly feel sorry for myself after looking at photos of the Syrian refugee camps?
But the greatest balm is when I’m inspired by someone who hasn’t given up. In this instance it was all the more stunning because it came in the form of a friend. I love being in awe of friends.
From deep beneath my heavy cloak of gloom I happened to peek out at Facebook the other day and saw that my friend Carole, on the brink of her 73rd birthday, had posted footage of herself jumping out of an airplane. A perfectly good airplane. On purpose. Whoa.
You may not be able to control how people feel about you, but you can do unexpected and exciting things at any age. You can skydive. The sky isn’t the limit. The sky is the starting point. You can be amazing. And that sounds a lot more appealing to me than lying in bed with the sheets pulled up over my head.
“I’m thinking about duality a lot,” said my friend. “More and more often, I am experiencing joy and sadness almost simultaneously.”
Boy oh boy, can I ever relate to that! Now that I’m in Seattle, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. But I’m also lonely, and sometimes that feeling washes over me like a tidal wave. And yet, I’m still here, living this adventure, making some of the best choices I’ve ever made. I think. I hope.
And the happier I get, the more intensely I grieve as well. I’d love to have shared these amazing experiences with Chuck. He would have loved this. All of it. He’d have made it a lot more fun, too. But he’d have also made it pretty impossible. Sometimes his intensity was a little hard to take.
It’s a very strange feeling, experiencing such a complex stew of emotions. You can taste each individual ingredient, and yet they’re all mixed together at the same time. You start to doubt your sanity.
But you also start to feel as if you’ve reached the next level of awareness. Like you’ve evolved. Like you’ve grown. Like you’ve achieved something.
And you suspect that things will only get harder from here. Hopefully, the rewards will be bigger, too.
One of the problems about writing a daily blog is that you’re always left with a vague sense that you’ve written all of this before. I could swear I wrote this blog entry within the past couple weeks, but I’ve searched and can’t find anything. So, if you’re a regular reader and are feeling a sense of déjà vu, my apologies. On the other hand, maybe I just thought about writing it and then never got around to it.
I had an epiphany the other day. Loneliness really makes no sense at all. It’s the mistaken assumption that someone out there, whom you’ve yet to even meet, holds the key to your happiness. How absurd.
First of all, from a mathematical standpoint that would also mean that I hold the key to some stranger’s happiness, and I’m keyless and clueless. So that formula is easily disproven. (And I don’t even like math.)
Also, loneliness means you’re giving all your power away. I don’t like that concept at all. I’m not going to live in some emotional limbo, on the off chance that some random person is going to come along and care enough and be capable enough to fill my every emotional need.
Ever since I had this epiphany about two weeks ago, I haven’t felt lonely at all. It’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I sort of feel as though I’m back in the driver’s seat of my life. What a liberating feeling.
Not that I plan to go live in a cave in the wilderness, mind you. I still want friends. I still want companionship. I still have itches that I very much would like to have scratched. But suddenly the urgency is no longer there. The sadness is gone. I appreciate my life for what it is, and look forward to what it can be, in whatever form that may take.
I used to know someone who would never, ever smile in photographs. He said it was because he looked funny when he smiled, but he didn’t look any funnier than the rest of the world. If you looked at his vacation photos, you’d swear he always had a horrible time. But I think it was less about an unattractive smile and more about his “I’m a victim” philosophy.
He used to dress in black from head to toe as well. He wanted the world to know he was angry. He was still upset about how people treated him in high school, even though he was in his late 40’s, so heaven only knows what other long-standing grudges he held.
Yes, all these things were cries for help, and he definitely needed help, but what he didn’t seem to realize was that by turning himself into a completely passive sad sack, by making no attempts to help himself, he turned people off. After a certain point, the world gets a little sick of feeling sorry for you.
I’d see this recurring pattern with him. Someone would meet him, think he was a nice guy, pity all that he goes through, and maybe even come to his defense. For a while. Then they’d start to avoid him. Once you realize that a very large adult male has figuratively put himself in diapers and a pacifier and expects you to carry him wherever you go, you suddenly think, “Hold on, I didn’t sign up for this.”
I think the fundamental problem with his mindset is that, yes, martyrs are often revered, but they usually have to die to reach that point. And he is not only alive, but he’s also an emotionally draining black hole. No one wants to approach his event horizon, for fear of being sucked in.