Tag: bastille

The Lonely Road to “Better”

Courtesy Warner Brs.

I have a confession to make. I don’t always fully disclose what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. It’s not that I intend to engage in deception, obfuscation, or lies of omission. In my mind, I consider other issues far more important than something that occupies the entirety of a single head weasel’s diatribe. When it comes to therapy, I drill down below the layer of the feelings to general, foundational matters that could be holding them up. With others, I take the opportunity to shift my focus from something that refuses to change to something I feel I can change, and ask for help with it.

The fact is, the more I tread this road of getting better, the more I realize how lonely it is.

This is ongoing work, and precision work at that. When it comes to my own heart and mind, who is more qualified than myself to hold the metaphorical scalpel? Time and again, I’ve probed into the dark corners of my shadow, finding behaviors that have impeded me, or that even have informed toxic behaviors. I’ve cut them out like cancers. I try not to feel diminished by this, but liberated, because just like not every child is special, not every part of the self is good or valuable. Certainly, these aspects of ourselves have things to teach us; unfortunately, some of those lessons are learned in very hard ways.

Especially when we’re called on those problematic aspects by others. Or, worse, when aspects that need to be lovingly touched upon for healthy healing are instead exploited for the gain of others through shaming and emotional violence. But that is a discussion for another time.

No matter how we are made aware of what is required for us to get better, the realization can trip us up, perhaps even cripple us for a time. Anxiety over the past and present overwhelm us, attack us. Grief and self-recrimination join forces, twisting knives in our hearts and tying our innards in nauseating knots. We retreat, we hide ourselves away, we grief and we shudder and we cry.

We are not okay. And that, in and of itself, is okay.

I wouldn’t be where I am, able to articulate this, if I hadn’t spend a good amount of time not being okay. I’d visited that place repeatedly, falling almost immediately into suicidal despair, only arresting myself and getting the most direct and scorched-earth type of help I could. Doing this got me accused of “attention seeking”; all I wanted was some fucking help, right the fuck now. I wasn’t okay. I wanted to be okay. I wanted to get better.

I didn’t want attention for it. I had to do it alone. And I expected to. I didn’t want to. But, on some level, I knew I had to.

At one crucial point, it became clear that the lonely road, and hard days of walking it, were my only real option. To say nothing to the outside world, to share nothing of the walk along that road, to make my focus getting better. I was alone in my grief, isolated in my anxiety. I could, and did, get help when and where I could, in person and from professionals, out of public view. I wanted to get better for myself, not for the sake of any public perception.

When, in a recent discussion, the subject of ‘being on my side’ came up, I said this:

I’m not going to say anything calculated to get you on my side. All I care about is showing up, in this moment, in the best possible way I can. People can make their own judgments.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out that I don’t have to live up to anybody else’s standards. Sure, in a working environment, standards must be met if I wish to remain employed. But in my personal life, on personal projects, the only required standards are my own. To be honest, I think a lot of the blame that’s been placed on my shoulders for things past came from my personal standards being so low and secondary to the standards of others. When others became aware of the fact that I prioritized their standards over my own, it became easier for them to shirk personal responsibility and push the causes for discord solely onto my shoulders. This isn’t to say I had no part in the course of events; indeed, I’ve had to look back critically to find which of my former behaviors pushed events in one direction or another. I’ve accepted that it’s what happened, I own the things I did wrong, and I’m working, constantly, to get better in that and many other regards.

I’ve had to let go of how others see me, of wanting so badly to be accepted, welcomed, loved by others. I’ve had to learn how to love myself, to care enough about myself to want to correct myself, shape myself into a version that meets higher standards that I alone set, to be a better self. It’s been difficult. It’s been heartbreaking.

It’s been lonely.

I’ve worked to get past the public shame. I’ve worked to define myself, by myself, for myself. I’ve worked to get fucking better.

And I’m not done yet.

I’ll still get anxious. I’ll still get nauseous. I’ll still be haunted by memories, sidelined by grief, temporarily crippled by heartbreak. Some things, some people, we simply do not get over.

I am not going to let that stop me.

Neither should you.

There’s an aspect of each of our selves that we’ve picked up along the way, through informed behaviors of others or the endemic troubles of society around us. It’s up to us to push those aspects away, put them down, walk away from them, let them wither and die. That is how we move forward. That is how we meet higher standards for ourselves. That is how we get better.

It’s not selfish for us to do this for ourselves. It’s necessary if we want to survive.

And we shouldn’t, for a single instant, feel guilty that we’ve torn ourselves apart, thrown away and destroyed that which has held us back, and put ourselves back together.

It’s a hard road. A lonely road.

For my part, it’s the only one worth walking.

And when it comes to those parts that were in the way of me finally getting better, when I give them a face and a name, and I cut them free of who I was, away from who I want to be…

I’m really, really glad they’re fucking dead.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

So. Good Grief.

Courtesy Virgin EMI

In case you weren’t aware, I am a huge fan of the band Bastille. Their first album, Bad Blood, continues to be a part of my regular CD rotation in my car. (Yes, my car still uses CDs when the radio’s not on, I need to re-install my head unit.) Specifically, ‘Pompeii’, ‘Icarus’, ‘Flaws’, and ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ are particularly emotional for me, to hear or to sing along with (Do you understand that we will never be the same again? / The future’s in our hands, and we will never be the same again.) It’s soil rich for planting our own experiences next to the thoughts and feelings conveyed in the music, and reaping the benefits of a more complete, more complex, more satisfying understanding of where we are in the world.

So let’s talk about the first single from their follow-up album, Wild World, simply entitled ‘Good Grief’. It’s an example of Dan Smith speaking as if he’s rooting around inside of my brainpan. I’m going to break it down from my perspective and try to explore why it’s hitting me so hard where I live.

  1. Much like their first single, ‘Pompeii’, Bastille perfectly juxtaposes an upbeat, even bouncy tune with quite serious and introspective lyrics. You can easily dance to ‘Good Grief’, but if you stop and listen to the words, you almost feel abashed for doing so. It sounds happy, but it isn’t. This is going to be a classic and exemplary song of Bastille’s.
  2. From the very start, and throughout, is the notion of “watching through [our] fingers”. It’s something terrifying in front of us, and we don’t want to see it, but it’s still something we have to face. We’re scared. We’re confused. We want to hide, but we can’t run. So we do what we can. We cry into our hands and we keep our face hidden, but we watch. In horror, in curiosity, in a desire to hold onto as much as we can, we watch.
  3. Grief is grief is grief. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way. It’s difficult to tell if the singer is going through the process of mourning the death of a loved one, or trying to survive a particularly bad break-up. Memories and feelings linger on, even if the person in question has ceased to exist (or we want them to). So things like old photographs where the person is not missing, their favorite song… they trigger those feelings and memories, and we do irrational things, like dancing at a somber funeral, or drinking until we lose control of our words.
  4. The way the last syllable of each repeated line in the verses feels like the singer is trying to get their thoughts and feelings out, but can’t quite see it through to the end. They lose their strength before they reach the end of the line. So much energy is being devoted to just staying alive, getting through another day, just fucking breathing, that it’s difficult to even speak completely. Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed in the morning. How can you be expected to complexly imagine your situation and find your way through it?
  5. “What’s going to be left of the world if you’re not in it?” This is such a powerful line. Our worlds change drastically when a loved one dies or a lover leaves us. We have to realign ourselves with our own hearts and our own goals, and we can easily lose sight of that because of the upheaval. We cope in different ways – casting our beloved as dastardly villains or shrieking monstrosities, denying anything bad actually happened, curling up in a dark corner wishing the world would go away – but in the end, we come back to questioning what is going to happen next in our world. And this is the question we need to face… even if we’re watching it through our fingers.
  6. Every minute we miss those no longer with us. When we stumble or make a mistake, we want that person there to either laugh with us through the foible or support us in picking ourselves back up. It underscores the loss, makes it more powerful in our minds, strains our hearts, and we miss them more.
  7. The burning clothes is either a reference to cremation for the dead or the catharsis of burning items connected to the lost partner. This is not always done by angry ex-lovers; sometimes, it’s part of a calming, cleansing ritual, part of an attempt to move on, at least in some measure. A Viking funeral for a love that was followed with audacity and fought for with bravery until the weight of the world crushed it. … Did I mention I’m a hopeless romantic? Which is an odd turn of phrase considering when you’re a “hopeless” romantic, you hold onto hope a lot more than some others. … Where was I?
  8. The female voice feels like an outside perspective. It’s interesting that Dan chose these lines from Weird Science. While it seems like it could be echoes of whomever was lost, it feels to me more like this is a current partner or friend or family member, trying to get the singer out and about, to re-embrace the life they’ve felt they’ve lost due to their grief. We all need friends like that.
  9. Grief isn’t just limited to us. It spirals out from the source of the loss and touches so many people. More than we might expect. Faced with the scope of the tragedy, be it an accidental one or the result of a choice, falling into the embrace of something like alcohol can be easier than dealing with all of these conflicting, devastating thoughts and emotions. We can get drunk, be foolish, lose control of our senses or our words, but in the end, we are put back in our place. And much like the interlude returns to the driving chorus, we come back to feeling that loss, seeing the ghost of the one we’ve loved, and every minute of every hour, we miss them. We miss them. We miss them more.
  10. The video. Oh, the video. The video is so brilliant. There are memories, dreams, and more that begin to have their narratives blending into one another, so many routes to escapism. But we keep coming back to Dan, wandering and alone, trying so hard to reconnect with whatever he’s lost in the real world. Watch the way the color palettes change. We want to be happy. We want to escape. But the real world keeps pulling us back… putting us in our place.

This is seriously one of the very best songs I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s going to be in my heart and on my mind for a long time. I’m hoping that taking this time to ruminate on it, as well as the general upswing in energy I’ve been feeling, will help me carve out more portions of the days ahead to get more writing done, be it here or in ways that push me past tomorrow.

It’s good to be back.

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