Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday promises...

Fleet Foxes
“Helplessness Blues”
[various formats] / Sub Pop / 2011

Have a listen to this sweet little song from the Fleet Foxes.


“I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,
unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking,
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues, why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm raw
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
Someday I'll be like the man on the screen”

* * *

This song speaks to me because I am seeking hope, redemption, and direction in life.

As for “snowflakes” and fierce originality:

I was one of those emotionally troubled kids who grew up labeled as “G/T” (“gifted and talented”) in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Throughout my public and private schooling, “gifted” kids -- particularly artistic & expressive ones -- were often encouraged to forge a fierce alloy of individuality within themselves.  From an early age we were exhorted to develop a strong and original sense of identity.  We were pushed hard to cultivate our various talents and métiers in uncompromising and heightened ways.

Those purported “gifts” became ever-heavier burdens to me as I unraveled time and again during my childhood and teen years.  I was a highly unstable youth, struggling to stay together while I joylessly shuttled between an intensely demanding school life and a wildly turbulent home life.

I was also competing with very impressive high-functioning kids from seemingly stable, nurturing homes, relative to mine (and a few others’).  These kids were formiddable rivals.  They were brilliant, intrepid, amazing individuals with ferocious and well-disciplined minds.

On the surface at least, many seemed exceedingly self-assured about the paths that lay ahead.  They also appeared to much more fully experience the sweetness of their youth and didn’t seem to know or understand the sourness of premature defeat and despair.

These winners were better “coached” and prepared to navigate social situations, school, work, and beyond.  They still are today, even as parents and professionals, coaching the next generation of winners.

While I struggled at home, battling with my raging authoritarian parents, at school I grew quietly envious and resentful of those whose “gifts” were more consistently nurtured and sustained (even as I began to academically crash and burn), those beautiful, smart, capable golden boys and girls who unwittingly tormented me in my youth spent in their shadows.

I sometimes imagined what their home lives were like, ultimately concluding that most couldn’t be having the kind of near-nightly knock-down drag-out fights with their dads that I was dealing with.  Most didn’t seem to be struggling with suicidal flirtations and persistent demons of self-hatred.

(An aside:

I couldn’t listen to Nirvana in high school because I knew it would have pushed me over the edge into the abyss.  Cobain came to represent the Pied Piper of Hell to me.)

Yes, I was a Faustian striver, a secret drive-deprivation jockey (sleep, food), but ultimately I had little to show for it.

By eleventh grade my mind was fast unraveling.  I was entering a terrible secret madness, a cycle of nightly manias followed by daily frenzies under a descending fog of numbness.

I tidily binged and purged history on quizzes that tested my wild eidetic memory, consistently scoring 19/20 and 20/20 grades on Mr. Early's textbook quizzes.  Then I'd turn around and vomit fact-fixated incoherence all over the mid-terms.

(I was a teenaged history anorexic and lived to tell.)

* * *

I still remember the pretty kids in the plaid uniforms parading the hallways, buzzing about going to Lollapalooza.

Yes, when it came down to it, many of my peers seemed to be teens for whom rebellion was merely just another adolescent pose to try on, not a soul survival strategy.

Over time I grew more and more arrogant and bitter.  (To this day, I struggle with this defensive posturing, often bristling with irritation and impatience at the apparent smugness of many cool, self-confident professionals around my age.)  I was conceited and defensive about my ever-more-questionable “talents,” vainly clinging to the ones I still believed that I had.  Every day I sought small self-affirming demonstrations of my self worth, shreds of dignity and promise in a life that seemed to be shot through with endless humiliations and hidden torments.

Meanwhile I was growing up in a household where my spirit was being pushed down by angry, miserable, exhausted old tyrants.  (I deeply hated my parents and also came to much more virulently hate myself.  I’m ashamed to say that I transferred some of this loathing to my most domineering teachers and thoughtlessly cruel peers.)

* * *

After multiple psychiatric hospitalizations during my teens and twenties and thirties, I have finally had it at the ripe old age of 33.

I am sick and tired of wanting to escape from my life and self.

I want a détente with God.

I want to be warm and at peace with myself — no longer cold and arrogant and at war with the world.

I want peace and grace and strength so that I will not crack again.

I want to give back to the people who have helped me, the people who have somehow seen through the mess on the outside to find a person with some wisdom and, yes, a few small leftover gifts.

(If for some reason you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading this little essay.  It was almost as rewarding to write as the few good ones that I remember writing in high school (now forever lost to me).)

Happy Easter.

* * *

"And I don’t, I don't know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see"

I misheard the second line as, “I’ll give back to you someday soon you will see.”

I will, though.  I’ll find a way.

I just have to stop taking so much away from you/us first.

Please leave feedback below, friend or foe.  (I miss school and feedback from English teachers.)


  1. I'll give it 24 hours. Then I'll just comment more on my own stuff. It's a beautiful Easter Sunday right now here in the DC metro.

    Gotta get out of the cool-but-cold basement echo chamber and go outside again.

  2. Hi Megu - Happy Easter! I liked this song, I didn't expect the change at the end. This was a nice essay too. I feel like I have had a super-watered down version of your experience, if that makes any sense, and if I dealt with things in different ways I also come back to your conclusion:

    "I want to be warm and at peace with myself — no longer cold and arrogant and at war with the world."
    "I want peace and grace and strength so that I will not crack again."

    I often think about grace and how I should strive for grace since I have not been doing a good job of it lately

  3. This was a good piece. I don't have a lot of thoughts to add other than that I (and I'm assuming others) really had no idea what was going on with you at the time. I was busy waging my own (entirely different) battle with myself. I hope that adulthood and insight(which you clearly have in abundance) bring you some peace.

    The song itself isn't my cuppa but the lyrics are great.

  4. Reading about your struggles and pain makes me very sad. I will pray that you find the peace and happiness you are looking for. love, Kathy

  5. This is Diana by the way. I want to thank you for sharing those thoughts and feelings, I know it's not easy. I repressed a lot of what I was feeling back then, and just now I'm having the courage to deal with it now. Like Jerome, I can only hope that the passage of time has made it easier to deal with (I know it has made it easier for me). For me, seeking help for those feelings, talking to a professional that could give me an unbiased view was really helpful. I had no idea that you were suffering, but I remember positive interactions with you back then, and I hope that you also remember them as positive.
    I also felt the same way about Nirvana back I can actually listen to it.