Devil was my angel

12 12 2016

Half-listening to Beth Orton and this song comes on so I stop and listen full:

This is the song I listened to as I decided to save my own life, lo those many years ago.





Devil was my angel

14 01 2013

Is it an aha moment if it drags you down and hollows you out?

Kurt Anderson at Studio 360 has been running an occasional series on “Aha Moments”—those encounters with books or movies or music which have changed one’s life.

Most of the stories are enlightening or funny or just sideways; I wonder if he’d want to hear about dark epiphanies?

I may have discussed this before, but what the hell: I was around 15 when I had mine. Two years earlier I had first started trying to kill myself, and after one brief ER visit and overnight psych ward stay at 14, I was trying to come to terms with my inability to end myself.

It was also around this time that I read The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough. There’s a scene late in the book when the priest Dane, Maggie’s son (by the priest Richard Chamberlain Ralph) goes for a swim, saves two women from drowning, then feels his heart bunch up. He begins to struggle to get back to shore, then says, in effect, Isn’t this what I want? To be with God? He stops struggling, spreads his arms, and drowns.

(That’s how I and Ms. Wikipedia remember it, at any rate.)

Well. That made quite an impression: Is this what I really want? To die? I could only answer, Yes. Am I ready to open my arms and let go? Not yet. Ah. This means I should wait until I’m ready, and only then kill myself.

Now, you might think this is pretty fucked up because. . . it’s pretty fucked up. Why did I have to answer Yes to the want-to-die question? I had no other answer. I had so humiliated myself by my failure that it seemed to me the only way to overcome that humiliation was to succeed.

Oddly, then, the Dane-epiphany kept me alive. I couldn’t stand another failure, and I couldn’t stand to live: thinking that I could stay alive long enough to prepare myself for death gave me some breathing space (albeit of rather toxic quality). I’d think about it periodically, check if I were ready, say nope, then keep living.

Of course, the pressure built. I tried and failed again in college, then again my first year of grad school. At this point I just said Fuck it, and stopped dealing with anything having to do with depression and suicide. I avoided books and movies on the theme, and did my damnedest to shut it all down.

And that worked, for years, that worked. And then the cracks, the frays, the quake, the buckling—whatever metaphor you prefer—and there I was, much older, and still not dead.

Which was a problem.

I was at least able to figure out that if I still hadn’t killed myself, well, y’know, there was something I could do about it. Back into therapy, back into the fight should-I-stay-or-should-I-go, blah blah. I did the work, I excavated myself, exposed the structures of my fucked-up living-to-die being, and by the end,  could neither stay nor go.

And then I had another moment. This wasn’t an Aha Moment the way the Dane thing was, but was a recognition, nonetheless. I had been listening to a lot of Beth Orton, and there was one song, Devil Song, which stayed with me, stretched out and empty and barely there.

But looking back in retrospect
Did you ever really get what you’d expect?
Trying to rectify
Got lost a little further
You’ve been trying to justify
Find out how and where it came

Devil was your angel, but it’s not no more
The devil was your angel, when you weren’t sure

Yep, pretty much.  And then there’s this:

Gonna take you back down
I won’t feel no shame
Till my dreams
Are my own again
Gonna take you right down, and I’ll take the blame
Till my dreams are my own again

Here I am again

Those lyrics didn’t save me. In some ways, I didn’t even save me: as I’ve mentioned previously, there was no decision, just a leaf turning this way rather than that.

But I think there was something in this song that said, in effect, you can go with this. Just because you were that before doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.  It’s okay not to die. It’s okay to be alive.

It’s coming up on 12 years since that night, and I’ve remained here. And that’s all right.

Here I am again.

Not yet, but getting there, getting there.





We might as well try, 1: See how we are

12 07 2012

D’oh!

First, an error (which will nonetheless remain): I was thinking we might as well try was a Beth Orton lyric, but it is not; the line I was thinking of, from “Pass in time” is You might as well smile/cause tomorrow you just don’t know. Since we might as well try fits so well, however, it’s staying.

That’s how it is.

(That whole cd is fantastic, by the way. Central Reservation. I’ll post a vid, below, along with the X vid; I know that lyric is right.)

Anyway, to begin the beguine, the human.

Hannah Arendt’s admonition that we should pitch “human nature” in favor of the “human condition” made a kind of intuitive sense to me when I first read it, although I couldn’t put that sense into words.

The problem of human nature, the Augustinian quaestio mihi factus sum (“a question I have become for myself”) seems unanswerable in both its individual psychological sense and its general philosophical sense. . . . [I]f we have a nature or an essence, then surely only a god could know and define it, and the first prerequisite would be that he be able to speak about a “who” as though it were a “what.” The perplexity is that the modes of human cognition applicable to things with “natural” qualities, including ourselves to the limited extent that we are specimens of the most highly developed species of organic life, fail us when we raise the question: And who are we?

She says, in effect, that we can’t get outside of ourselves, which is what is really sufficient to be able to determine any essential qualities; more to the point, even if we could determine an essential what, that helps us not at all with the how and who of us.

On the other hand, the conditions of human existence—life itself, natality and mortality, worldliness, plurality, and the earth—can never “explain” what we are or answer the question of who we are for the simple reason that they never condition us absolutely.

Arendt noted earlier that

The human condition comprehends more than the conditions under which life has been given to man. Men are conditioned because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence. . . . In addition to the conditions under which life is given to man on earth, and partly out of them, men constantly create their own, self-made conditions, which, their human origin and their variability notwithstanding, possess the same condition power as natural things. Whatever touches or enters into a sustained relationship with human life immediately assumes the character of a condition of human existence.

I know, right? Right?

Okay, so it was good that Arendt was such an acute thinker, because she wasn’t always the sharpest writer. Still, I wanted to give you the excerpts, if only to give you a base from which to jump off and all over my interpretation of that base.

Which is: we are whats, material beings, but not just whats. To  divine a human nature is, in a sense, to reduce us to a what, and since we can’t get outside of ourselves (which would be necessary for such a reduction), it makes no sense to try. We may, in fact, never fully understand even our whatness, much less the how and who (and don’t even bother with the why) of humanness, but we can look around and make sense of the world we live in, both given and constructed. Thus, to speak of the human condition is to refer to that double-existence: one (please forgive the Heideggerianism) always already there, and one we are constantly re-shaping and re-creating.

And of course you understand that even the givens are fluid—Heraclitus and all that, right?

I’m as bad as Arendt, aren’t I? To boil this nub into a nib: We live in a world made over by us, and which makes us over. We condition and are conditioned, and the best chance we have of making sense of our selves is to make sense of those conditions and conditionings.

And that nib into a bit: We live in our relations to the natural world, the world we make, and to one another; we cannot make sense outside of these relationships.

So what does that mean for this project? That we start in the world, with actual human beings in all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses and not in some abstracted stick-figure of what someone things we should be, if only we could get rid of all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses.

The mess is our condition; get rid of that, and you get rid of us.

~~~~~~

And now, as promised, Beth Orton:

And X: