My name's Dave. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sickness and Sadness

Last night I met with a friend at a coffeeshop. We sat in the dimly lit back room and drank tea and talked. One thing we talked about was what we felt most strongly defined us. For both of us, two primary things came up: our sickness and our sadness. We all have our little sicknesses; things we obsess over or do against all better wisdom. Parts of our nature that will lead us into harm.
As I rode the bus home this morning, watching the rain run along the windows and obscure the signs of the streets crossing East Burnside, I thought back to it. I have many things I consider “sicknesses,” which isn’t to say I don’t like them (in fact, some of my favorites things about myself fall into this category), but they aren’t particularly healthy.
One of these is my compulsion to make mix cds.
It began innocently enough, some years ago, when I made my first mix as a gift to myself and two close friends up in Olympia. We were soon to part ways, and the songs were to remind us of the times we’d shared, enjoyed one another’s company, and so on. Harmless enough. But it continued when I began to document the music I was listening to each month. I’d have a mix for July 2001, then August, and so on. A journal in music, if you will.
There were also (and still are) the mixes that I have made for various women in my life. The intentions have varied, but they always basically revolved around the idea that I was expressing my feelings for them through the music in varying degrees between the subtle and the not-so-subtle. Some boys brings flowers, some write love letters; I make mix cds.
I like doing it; I’m good at it. But I let myself get a bit carried away sometimes.
Midway through High Fidelity, John Cusack briefly states a few rules for making a good mix cd. I have elaborated this question into a full-blown essay, and still constantly obsess over it and revise it in my mind. It’s developed from something innocuous and pure into something almost viral: over the past two years, I have become more and more aware of a part of my brain that scans every song I hear for its potential inclusion on some as-yet-unborn mix. Scanning for theme. Emotional tone. What about a mix about leaving home? About starting over? What about this? What about that? It prevents me from really just listening to whatever it is I’m listening to on its own merits, just for the sake of enjoying it.
This has got to change.
I adopted Ryan’s habit of creating four mix cds a year: one for each of the seasons. Both to help process the change, and to keep from stretching myself too thinly. The winter mix was recently completed and sent out into the world. And now, naturally, that little bug in my mind has begun frantically working on the spring compilation. Here in the dead of winter. Immediately it begins dreaming up new mixes to fill the void until spring comes, or worse, keeps nagging me to get started early on the spring comp. Sometimes it's a conscious process, but always it's going on somewhere outside of my awareness as well.
It's developed a life of its own. I can't stop it.
What I can do is examine it, and hopefully come to terms with it.
I’ve been reading this wonderful book on Zen called Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, basically the collected lectures, teachings, and letters of Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. I’ve read many books on Buddhism and Taoism and spent a lot of time thinking about them, but this book in particular is really driving home the point that I, despite all my good intentions, am still just as attached to my own desires as anyone else, however noble and cultured I might find them.
I read the book while waiting for the bus and the more I read the more I thought about how far I have still to go. I have been meditating regularly, yes, but I still approach it with that desire-mind, that mind that feels a bit superior for having done it. I don’t let this stop me, because practice is the important thing. I sit, and it’s good. But I know I’m still approaching it from the wrong mindset.
Still, it’s got me thinking about all the things I do, and all the things I think of when I ask myself the bottomless and simple question: what am I?
It comes down to my sickness and my sadness. I’m tremendously attached to both of them. They’re intrinsically tied to my identity. I’d fight tooth and nail to keep from letting them go. And yet as I read the damningly simple words of Seung Sahn, I know that they are, in the end, hindrances as well. Over and over it comes up: This is thinking. This is, as Hamlet said, just words, words, words.
Put it all down.
So where does this leave me? I am not remotely ready to give up all my earthly possessions and let go of my opinions, judgments and beliefs, nor am I willing to cut my hair off or stop making the mixes. They may feed my vanity, but they also help keep me sane.
But I know that I have to find a middle ground, a healthy relationship with my sickness. It comes down to simply being present. I can embrace the tendencies without letting them consume me if I simply stay in the moment and don't over-think it. When I'm looking in the mirror, that is everything; there is only me and my hair and my vanity. When I’m working on the spring mix, the spring mix is the entire world. But the rest of the time I have to really focus on just being where I am, and not drifting off into the land of scanning songs or worrying about what people might think of me. I have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, back to the present. Right now. The only place where the music is playing. The only place I’m really alive.
The sickness and sadness can remain. They’re a part of me.
But everything in its right place.

1 comment:

  1. You know this, but it merits stating: you are more than either your sickness or sadness, though I recognize what it is you are saying. One day we'll have to have a talk about my previous forays into zen/buddhism. There is a middle ground and it does require loosening your hold on a few things, but not to the point of giving everything up. I think you're right about paying attention and being present. It is not harmful to look forward or back, but it is important not to forget where we are now. In fact, I have a book for you. Ben's not currently reading it (try as I might to get him to) so perhaps you should. Hope to see you soon. Oh, yes, and speaking in present terms, Minou is home with me now.