Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Well, it’s another Thanksgiving and today we are all spending time with friends and family, eating and drinking far too much and reflecting on our many blessings. For me, it’s been a strange, disturbing year for many reasons, and yet I still feel fortunate.

Fortunate to still be here, for one thing. Several people from the music world that has obsessed me lo these many years have died this year: John Luraschi and Larry Blasco from the Jersey Shore scene. Ellie Greenwich and Larry Knechtel from Phil Spector’s family of geniuses. Lifelong heroes like Ted Kennedy. Friends of friends whom I only hear about weeks later. But they are gone just the same, and that is always hard.

I visited Arlington National Cemetery earlier this year and witnessed the results of the savagery and relentlessness of man’s wartime folly. As rifle shots from a funeral echoed in the distance, it was brought home to me again how precious an individual life is to those who mourn; how tragic the loss of so many young, vital people. Each death leaves a gaping hole in our lives that only time can fill.

This year I have lost my precious tabby cat Suzie, who was my companion and best friend. She knew all my secrets and listened without judgment. She comforted me when I was sad and alone, and I told her things no one else would understand. She was spoiled and overweight, but she was kind and affectionate and I will miss her terribly.

There have been other changes this year. I have taken some steps in my personal life that have left me with a somewhat uncertain future, but they were changes that needed to happen and I feel certain that despite the difficult circumstances at present, things will eventually work out. My sister has finally begun to receive the medical treatment she so desperately needs, and has begun addressing some of her own personal difficulties.

But there have also been several things that have happened to me that have been nothing short of amazing. I have renewed my friendships with several people whom I haven’t seen in years. I have appeared on the radio with Dave Marsh, an old friend and mentor who always seems to be there at the right time. I have seen Bruce Springsteen perform in a small venue right in my own backyard. I have discovered another band to chase around the country, and have found several new friends along the way, a couple of whom have completely and utterly changed my life. They continue to make me feel wanted and needed when I am at my lowest, and constantly remind me that the best things in life are often so simple: a glance, a smile, a kiss. A touch, a long, warm embrace that lets you know everything’s going to be all right. These are gifts whose value has no measure, and I cannot begin to thank them enough.

There are so many things to be thankful for despite all the heartache and despair of the past year. I have a job and money in the bank. I have a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I have my friends and my family, no matter how fractured and dysfunctional it may be. I have my head and my heart and my body and my brain. I have my health—for the most part. I have a car and clothes to wear and music to listen to. Books to read, films and television to watch, culinary marvels to indulge in. I have the smell that hangs in the air just before it snows, the aura of anticipation just before a band that I love starts to play. I have the memory of the way my cat used to look at me when I’d scratch her chin, the warmth of her body in my lap. The way the sunlight glints off the breaking ocean waves and dapples its surface. The way my friends make me laugh, the taste of warm red wine and the soft buzz it gives me. The charge I still get from seeing a great movie or reading a great book or hearing great music. From discovering a new band, from those three chords and that backbeat. From Paul McCartney’s winsome smile and pure, true voice and unforgettable melodies, from Paul Westerberg’s heart and soul and wit, from Beethoven’s passion and Forster’s intelligence and Coppola’s epic grandeur and Winslet’s perfect skin and intense blue eyes and Newman’s self-deprecating grin.

I have the smell of wet grass, the light in a certain someone’s eyes and that naughty suggestive smile he sometimes gives me that always makes me melt. I have The Ramones and The Beatles, the sound of a cat’s purr, the contended snorts and munches of horses and cows when they’re fed, the gurgling of a hidden stream in the woods on a brisk fall day, the sound of the wind in the trees, the stillness of solitude in the outdoors, the awesome magnitude of a mountain range in the distance. The perfect refreshment of cold orange juice when I have awakened with a hangover; the greasy, salty warmth of Burger King french fries and the perfect tang of garlic and oregano and tomato and cheese that flavors a slice of pizza on the street in New York City. The total comfort of egg drop soup, of having a place to come home to at the end of the day when I’m tired and hungry and just need to sit down and do nothing for awhile. The way the sound of loud guitars hits me right in the chest, the way the drums pound through my head, the way the bass can be something I hear but can also be that frequency that vibrates through my entire body. The way it feels when you’re alone with someone and they take you in their arms and hold you and touch you and make the entire world disappear. The way my nephews talk to each other when they think no one else is listening, how their voices echo throughout the house, the sound of their feet running back and forth as they chase each other around at play. The soft, cool glow of moonlight that hangs above a still night meadow, the twinkling of the Brooklyn Bridge, the green torch of the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The Lincoln Memorial at night, the chirping of birds outside my window.

Yes, I am blessed by these things and many more. I am still here despite everything, and for that I am truly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mental Health Will Drive You Mad

The latest news concerning Lindsay Lohan—that her father is using voice mails she left for him as proof that he needs to forcibly commit her—is evidence of many things, not the least of which is that for the mass audience that consumes this sort of drivel, mental health issues are nothing more than entertainment fodder, something to be vaguely amused by as they peruse their daily doses of Twitter, Facebook and whatever other passing fancies that are nothing more than a momentary distraction in their humdrum lives.

Well in my family and thousands of others like it, mental health is no joke. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks, breakdowns, drug abuse—these are daily facts of life for us. It deeply disturbs me that in this age in which we are supposedly enlightened about so many things, mental health is not treated as a serious public health issue but as some sort of joke, a self-indulgent behavior pattern that will “go away” if those who are afflicted by it would just make an effort to “get over it.” While we have made some progress with public perception—we no longer sweep such things under the proverbial rug—I find it deeply troubling that the mass media (and the great unwashed masses who consume it) continue to treat mental health concerns of public figures with such casual cynicism.

Someone near and dear to me is going through a terrible time right now and it has been a horrible strain on everyone in the family, not the least of which are her two young boys who don’t really understand what’s going on except that their mommy who adores them is a shadow of her former self, sad and lethargic and hopeless. She is in serious trouble, in danger of doing great damage not just to herself but to those who care about her. Like poor troubled Lindsay, she struggles each day with a myriad of issues that sometimes get the best of her. She is fortunate that, unlike Lohan, she has a support system in place that continues to look out for her, but like Lindsay, she still feels sometimes as if there is no one who really understands what she’s going through, no one she can completely trust.

Having suffered from crippling depression myself, I understand the frustration of trying to convey what it is I’m experiencing to someone who has never had mental health issues. When I describe the medication and treatment program that I have undergone, for example, the response is often skepticism instead of empathy. They don’t understand why the drugs are necessary, a fundamental aspect of the course of treatment, instead seeing them as a sign of weakness, as some sort of crutch we choose to lean on instead of just dealing with the disease. To those who haven’t experienced it, depression is not a disease at all, is no more than a bad mood that will soon pass. How many times have you heard someone who is perfectly ok say something like “I’m so depressed” and then go on to cheerily describe the latest travails with their current job, boyfriend, etc.? That, my friends, is not depression at all, and it’s about time we started delineating the difference.

It’s time for people to wake up and realize that depression is real, bipolar disorder, anxiety, breakdowns—these things are not some trumped up behavior indulged in by rock stars and actors to get their names in the headlines. Counseling, drug therapy, hospitalization—these are not extreme measures or a sign of laziness, but fundamental aspects of a treatment regiment designed to help the mental health patient get better. Lindsay Lohan is in a lot of trouble right now, and instead of mocking her, we should be hoping and praying that there is someone out there who can help her before it’s too late. Because, you see, I’ve seen that look that she has on her face, and I am all too familiar with what might come next.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Just Another Saturday Night

I have never really had much imagination when it comes to Halloween costumes. Mostly just bought a cheapie mask at Sears or some such. Nor have I ever really had much enthusiasm for the holiday beyond the obvious candy windfall. These days, like many things in our Modern World, Halloween has become competitive to the point of ridiculousness. As in, how obscure/trendy/ironic can you be and still have people know who you are? Just having a well made costume and a well thought out idea isn’t enough anymore. And if you’re in a major city and are of the female persuasion, there is, of course, the mandatory (and completely unimaginative) sexy fill-in-the-blank costume outfitted by your favorite lingerie store. If you’re in the ‘burbs, however, it’s all about documenting said event by taking endless photos of your adorable kids that no one else really wants to see and then following behind them while they’re out collecting treats with a cooler of cheap beer (my guess—Coors Light). If you’re somewhere in the middle, having a Halloween party is the way to go, which is cool except for usually I have to work on Halloween night and am too old and tired to want to do anything afterward. So this year, like most, I busied myself with a classic movie on TCM, a strong drink and some wonderful scented candles while my more creative and talented friends lit the night with their imaginations.