38. Wise Up – Aimee Mann
If there was ever a movie version of this blog – just suspend belief for a moment – then it’s becoming apparent that the director would need to change the ending. There are five records left to cover, including this one, and in the movie you might reasonably expect those final musical musings to build to some sort of rousing conclusion. A happy ending.
However – *spoilers* – we are probably not headed for a neat and tidy finale in which our hero (again, suspend some of that belief for me) unravels the question to the life, the universe, and everything, unpicks whether the answer really is Deep Thought’s 42, and achieves a deep and abiding sense of contentment. It’s going to be more like the end of Empire Strikes Back than Return Of The Jedi, put it that way.
All of which is a slightly convoluted way of ‘fessing up that the road back from anxiety and depression – assuming optimistically that there is a “back” – seems to be a difficult one. In the neat and tidy version of this blog I returned to work after my sabbatical with a renewed and refreshed perspective on how I wanted to live and floated through productive days in a state of Zen like calm. In the real version I’m still artificially moderating my adrenaline levels with pills, still struck with irrational panic in seemingly innocuous scenarios, and still sometimes hating myself for what has happened to me. Or what I seem to be doing to myself, albeit subconsciously. I’m not even really sure which it is. I guess it’s what I’m doing to myself.
I’ve never really been very good at expressing how I feel. Turns out I may not even be very good at feeling how I feel. I seem to have something of an aversion to fully experiencing how I’m feeling and being okay with it, in all its glorious, uncontrollable, maddening cadences. Just for clarity, I’m not a psychopath, I haven’t lost the capacity to feel, it’s just that I seem to have stopped allowing myself full range of expression without even realizing it. It’s almost as if I have become distrustful of giving free reign to experiencing emotion and have tried to lock it away, either to project some notion of strength or to protect against something painful. It is a very difficult thing for me to admit to vulnerability. I realise that sentence looks somewhat incongruous written on a publically viewable blog, somewhat contradictory, but there’s a distance here – between me writing and someone reading, even if it’s someone that knows me – that feels okay in a way that telling someone the same wouldn’t. Put another way, possibly more simply, it is not too difficult to write here that I cried on my way home from work this week because I felt so defeated by my illness (if that’s what it is – I guess that’s what it is) but I would almost certainly never let you see those tears.
For a long time I have tried to keep a lid on it. Keep it under control. Inevitably it’s all still there, bubbling away under the surface – constant maintenance of which requires no little effort (the Manic’s “No Surface, All Feeling” was on my long list of songs for this blog). That’s not to say that I think that everything would be okay if I magically transformed into a creature driven entirely by its emotional impulses, that would seem to me to just be a different kind of hysterical mess. There’s a balance somewhere and I haven’t found it, don’t seem to know quite how to find it, and the consequence of that is that stuff (eat your heart out Jung) builds up inside me, isn’t given expression, and ends up popping out in other ways: lately in anxiety, previously in depression. In that context anxiety really is a fucker (eat your heart out Freud) as it becomes like a loop – repressed emotion feeding an anxiety response which in turn provokes a repression of emotion for fear of an anxiety response. Rinse and repeat.
Even this post is telling about my essential modus operandi. It’s a pretty rational, balanced assessment of something that is happening to me – or something that currently is me – rather than a splurge of feeling. It’s fairly dispassionate and detached. And that might well be part of my issue. The point of it, I guess, is a recognition and acknowledgement of that fact. The process of actually giving up the barriers I duck behind emotionally may take rather longer.
All of which 6th form psychology brings us to Aimee Mann. I’ve alluded to the fact before that there were a number of artists whose place on the list of my 42 records was never in question and she was absolutely one of them. I first heard her properly via the film “Magnolia” (and this song is part of the soundtrack) and the album she released around the same time, “Bachelor No. 2”. She is consistently smart, sharp, wise, funny, melancholic, warm, and melodic. There are very few wry observers of the human condition via the medium of three minute pop songs that I admire more.
“Wise Up” is a pretty simple song – a beautiful song but pretty simple. In the context of “Magnolia” it works to tie together the stories of the various lost characters in the film, asking each of them to recognise that things won’t improve for them unless they acknowledge some things about themselves and change. It’s about as straightforward as it gets in terms of wrapping a record in to my own personal narrative. The last line of the song might be heard as ambiguous – it’s not going to stop so just… give up – but I have always heard that line as “giving up” modes of behaviour or habits that are damaging rather than the more blunt sense of just giving up entirely. It’s a hopeful giving up rather than a fatal one.
So I suspect, in four record’s time, that not all of this will be resolved; there will be room for a sequel (although I’m not committing to writing about another 42 records). It may even turn into a saga – perhaps I could franchise it and sell tee shirts or something (“keep calm and take propranolol hydrochloride” or something equally snappy). I will try at the very least to ensure it remains a story of wising up and giving up.