Am I Dead But I Don’t Know It?


But I still like Randy Newman
I have nothing left to say
But I’m gonna say it anyway*

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fact that I rarely listen anymore to the music I grew up with and, up until about 8-10 years ago, used to love – basically, rock and pop.
I think both people dealing with anxiety issues and those growing older may experience this and wonder what the reason may be.
Mozart rocks. . . gently
Most of the time, I listen to classical music but also jazz, blues and some other forms of instrumental music. At the beginning, during a particularly bad episode of anxiety, I felt the classical music I was listening to helped me to calm down and relax.
After a while, I found myself enjoying it to the point where it became my preferred music.
My changing taste in music was driven home to me a few months ago when I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live. Springsteen had been my favorite artist and I had grown up with his music, knew most of the songs by heart and had the same transcendent experiences that many other fans do during live shows.
This time, it seemed like more of a muddle-through. I had heard and seen it all before and something was missing. As Bruce and the band plowed through song after song, almost mechanically, I began to look at my watch. 
And then I wondered: is it really true that if it’s too loud, you’re too old?
I’ve been bothered a bit by the experience ever since. I have all the genre music and rock channels programmed on my Sirius radio in my car but I find I might listen to them for maybe a song or two and I look for something else – even news and talk.
I still have enough of my faculties to remember the way I used to be. Part of it was having what I will call an ‘exuberant energy’ that seems to have left me. I had a sort of manic enthusiasm for many things that are gone, leaving me somewhat emotionally bereft. Again, what is the cause – aging, medications, work stress, or something else or a combination of factors?
I used to enjoy driving long distances to see new things and meet new people. Now I just want to stay home with my wife and cat. I physically could not drive that many hours without collapsing anyway.
I liked going out for movies and conversations with friends over drinks. Now those friends are gone, I don’t drink much, I find I have no desire to see what Hollywood is putting out (nothing for my age group) and the idea of crowded theaters doesn’t appeal to me. 
I used to collect coins and marvel at the designs and the fact that when you held an old coin in your hand, you were the last in a long string of people throughout the years who also held that coin. Now my silver is removed from their cases and bundled up as I occasionally check the going price of bulk silver looking for a good time to unload the lot.
I used to be politically engaged and looked for opportunities to change the world or at least my little part of it. Now I’ve given up on all of that, seeing those efforts as having wasted a good part of my life slamming my head into a wall waiting for a different result. And society has degenerated to such a degree that I want no part of interacting with it.
I loved reading books more than anything. I still have hundreds of books which are in good need of a dusting. If I read any books at all, they are on Kindle and it takes me all year to get through even the ones I enjoy. I haven’t the attention span any more. 
Is this the progressive course of depression, again or something else?
One of my first and longest lasting loves was newspapers. I got my mom to subscribe to the local papers when I was 11. I kept many of the front pages of my youth which now hang on the wall of my basement museum. I got to work in the field and was lucky and privileged enough to do some great stories and experience history. I would eagerly anticipate the paper delivery and devour it all.
Now the newspaper sometimes doesn’t make it from the driveway to the front door without being thrown in recycling. 
And newspapers are dead
There are many more examples, but I don’t want to belabor the point.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11
What bothers me about the above quote from St. Paul is that these things I’ve mentioned that I lost interest in are not childish things; per se. Adults still partake in every one of them.  I do not think I outgrew any of this. Something else happened and I don’t like it. All of this passion I once had for things has slipped away.
Part of the reason I can’t quit Facebook even though I know it’s probably not good for me, is that I get a window into the lives of people who always seem happy. Mostly my high school classmates, but others too. They are out having fun with their big families and enjoying everything. I look at this parade of smiling people and their travels and celebrations and think: what’s wrong with me? I was kind of like this. What happened? If they can do it, why can’t I?
Shiny happy people – is it all an illusion
I used to me be but now I’m someone else. Like one of T.S.Eliot’s Hollow Men
I’m dead inside. I exist, but with no real passion, excitement or anticipation of better things to come. I’m going through the motions, waiting for the shadow man with the scythe to come for me. My last two remaining material pleasures are fattening food and a halfway decent night’s sleep. There are depression sufferers who often will spend a day or a week in bed. I get that. Bed is the only place I feel totally comfortable with myself.
I continue to struggle at work. I often get confused and forgetful. I get very frustrated with myself and realize that if I ever got a job as a reporter in a newsroom again, I couldn’t handle it. I have to double and triple check everything I do. I forget names, places, dates and what I did earlier in the day. 
I wonder how long this can go on.
I have a family to support
But surely, that is no excuse
I’ve nothing further to report
Time you spend with me
Is time you lose*
When we were kids, the whole idea of growing up and getting to do adult things and getting a fantastic job and having a great life were what we lived for. For me, the trip was marching at one horizon after another. I’ve done a lot, seen a lot and have mostly enjoyed my experiences, at least when my bipolar was not causing issues. 
They say that the magic is in the trip, not the destination. But I think some of us actually reach a destination when the road comes to a dead end. For whatever reason, the possibilities are now closed, the mind and body start to decline and you’re just holding on. Not a really bad situation, not a good one — just stasis, entropy, disillusionment. We got to where we were going and found there were no answers, no great truths revealed, and no pot at the end of the rainbow. There was, however, a comfy couch and a TV with 157 channels.
If there was anything left to do, I wouldn’t have the energy for it anyway. 
I always thought that I would know
When it was time to quit
That when I lost a step or two or three or four or five
I’d notice it
Now that I’ve arrived here safely
I find my talent has gone
Why do I go on and on and on and on and on*
I’ve seen it all, heard it all, and now I am tired. I work in job where I’m not needed, I carry issues that leave me no peace, and career and life goals are just a remembrance, receding in the rear view mirror.
Kurt Vonnegut became a big fan of the Statler Brothers and especially their song ‘Flowers on the Wall.’ Vonnegut interpreted the song as a story about a man who has lost his usefulness in the world. I always thought it was the only hit song that mentioned Captain Kangaroo, a childhood idol.
But I think he’s right.
Last night I dressed in tails, pretended I was on the town
As long as I can dream it’s hard to slow this swinger down
So please don’t give a thought to me, I’m really doin’ fine
You can always find me here, I’m havin’ quite a time

I’m not sitting in my living room playing solitaire with a deck of 51, but like the character in the song, I dream of doing the things I used to but when I go out, I find it a strange and challenging experience and wish to return as soon as possible to my ‘room’ and perform my tired yet comfortable and safe routine.
I know I seem to be feeling sorry for myself and in a way, I’ll cop to it. But I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. I just haven’t meant anyone who does, probably because most men (or women) don’t want to talk about it. And, I hate being this way and have tried numerous things to get me out of this rut. Writing this essay is akin to wandering in the woods speaking your thoughts to the trees and perhaps an idea will emerge. But right now, I’m out of solutions.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said there were no second acts in American life. I know he’s wrong. I’ve had second, third and fourth acts. All I want is one more act, one more adventure, one more burst of energy. I didn’t think it would be over at 54; sixty-five maybe but not now. 
I think Randy Newman captured the feeling perfectly as well:
When will I end this bitter game?
When will I end this cruel charade?
Everything I write all sounds the same
Each record that I’m making
Is like a record that I’ve made
Just not as good

I’m dead but I don’t know it
He’s dead, he’s dead
Please don’t tell me so
Please don’t tell me so
You’re dead!*

 
And now a surprise twist:
Submitted for your approval. . . .
 Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged – a dying place and a common children’s game called kick-the-can, that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world, if he doesn’t escape into – The Twilight Zone.
The episode is called Kick the Can and it was remade for the Twilight Zone movie.
I just remembered it. That means I have to see it again.
“What happened Ben? What changed you? Was it time that did it . . . or was it something else?”
“I feel if I could only run again, growing old wouldn’t be so bad.”
Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for ancient people, who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking – to visit – The Twilight Zone.
 

Kick the can

I have to find it. The magic.
                                                                     * — Lyrics from Randy Newman “I’m Dead but I Don’t Know It”
This entry was posted in children, depression, getting old, kick the can, mental health, middle age, regret, Rod Serling, Springsteen, Twilight Zone, When we were very young, Wonder Years. Bookmark the permalink.

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