To me, music is the antidepressant I know best, and one that is devoid of side effects. While necessary for many, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors frighten me because some artists and authors say they stunt their ability to create. As a writer, that’s unsettling, having my voice muffled or extinguished.
I know I may well have to use them at some point. I may need to find some stability from the ups and downs that characterize my depression, instead of white-knuckling as I have. But for now, I find, tiny instances of relief can be found in the furthest reaches of depression, small reminders that life is worth it.
Sometimes you just have to find the strength to push play.
I love how this writer described her relationship with music. Music has always been a huge part of my life, from when I first began listening to music on my own, late at night, discovering the rock music of the 1980’s on my Walkman to now, when I create playlists based on specific characters I’m writing about. My main playlist is just called “Writing,” even though I don’t listen to music when I’m actually writing. It’s the music that inspires my writing, and it brings me calm. Kristian Libman listed a few of the albums, bands, and songs that have helped her depression, so I will do the same here.
- Blue October – I’ve written about them before, and their impact is still true. Lead singer Justin has been through hell and back, and listening through the band’s albums is like hearing his life story.
- Audrey Assad – One of the few Christian artists I consistently listen to. Her songs are like hymns in their lyrical sophistication, but so intimate and personal at the same time. Every song is a prayer.
- Ingrid Michaelson – there’s something about the simple strength of her voice that calms me.
- Joy Williams
- Brandi Carlile
- Jason Isbell
- Bee Bakare
- Greg Laswell
- Matthew Mayfield
I don’t really remember why I wanted to learn guitar. I had played piano for a while after my parents told me I could pick any instrument after I learned how to read music, and I originally wanted to play the flute. Piano went on for several years, and I hated practicing, even though I wasn’t horrible. I never picked up the flute, and eventually wanted to learn guitar. I think it was because guitar is the “cool” instrument, it’s what you play when you’re in a rock band, and I always harbored dreams of being a rock star. I got my first acoustic guitar at Guitar Center as part of a “kit,” and took lessons at a music store in a room that was probably about 2 x 5 feet, generously. If my guitar teacher had been left-handed, it would have never worked.
Practicing guitar really stressed me out. I had performance anxiety, so even when I had spent hours practicing, I got super nervous when I had to play for anyone, even just my teacher, and messed up. I eventually got an electric guitar because it was easier on my fingers, and it made more sense since my guitar teacher was mostly teaching rock music. His name was Randy and he had long red hair in a ponytail, and always wore a black T-shirt. We were both really quiet, so it was awkward. We didn’t really say hello or goodbye, we just sort of nodded at each other. Eventually, I switched teachers because someone I knew at school had just started learning, and really liked her teacher. I had become more interested in classical guitar music at this point, so my parents helped me get a very expensive classical guitar that was on sale. I still had an electric guitar, which I played for the school worship band.
I learned how to read music for guitar really well with my second teacher, because just about all classical music is in that form. Rock music is all chords, and scales, if you’re good and want to do solos. I was still really frustrated though, like all the time. I was never happy with my progress, and I hated the thought of having to do recitals, so I didn’t. I knew a lot of people from school who played guitar, and they were all way better than me, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was it genetics? Good luck? It certainly couldn’t be practice, because I practiced a lot.
When my second guitar teacher stopped teaching and moved to Duluth to get married, I didn’t bother finding another teacher. I sold my electric guitar and stowed my classical away in its case. It wasn’t worth it.
Recently, I’ve started playing more seriously again. I started hearing songs and thinking, “I could play that.” Ingrid Michaelson is my favorite right now, because she uses basic chords, but the vocal melodies over them are all unique. I can see where my lessons paid off in that my fingers still remember chords and I can still read basic sheet music. My sense of timing has also improved, which is weird, because I haven’t been doing anything to keep that up, and I was always really bad at it.
I think not feeling stressed about it makes a world of difference. I don’t have anything to prove. I’m not searching for a shared identity with other guitarists who don’t see me as a musician because I don’t want to make it my career. There’s no pressure to have mastered a certain page in a week, or an upcoming performance where strangers judge me. In the past, I considered selling my last guitar. I’m so glad I didn’t. What used to be a source of stress and anxiety has become a stress-reliever.
I’ve known for a long time that I’m bitter about the Church. The last church I went to consistently went through a lot of big changes very quickly and left me feeling abandoned and betrayed. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a bunch of little things. I was disappointed in the direction (or lack of direction) I felt the church had. There was a lot of division about things like worship, prayer, and leadership. People left. People got hurt. In the end, it just became a building.
It isn’t just the one church I’ve been heartbroken by. It’s the Church. I’ve always had trouble with the Christian community and feeling like I fit in. Youth groups and Sunday school were agonizing for me on a social level. I never felt spiritually challenged or like issues that I was facing (like depression and anxiety) were being addressed at all. It seemed like curriculum for teens was based on gender stereotypes and the idea that young people have no attention spans or interest in depth. It didn’t really change as I got older; so many small groups for women met during the day and centered around motherhood or crafting. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but it is limiting. It just serves to confirm my long-held anxieties about not fitting in.
Those anxieties have gotten worse. Politics has been the defining battleground between me and the Church. I’ve discussed this a lot on my blog, about how religion and politics become one and the same, about how I’ve been personally attacked by people I trusted just because I don’t agree with their ideologies. These are fellow Christians. These are fellow Christians who do not see a problem with either directly or indirectly questioning my devotion to the faith based on my political beliefs. I may disagree strongly with conservative Republican ideas and question why people agree with them, but I would never- and have never – judged someone’s Christianity based on those ideas. It is a repulsive attack. I know I’m bitter about it. I know that holding on to bitterness hurts me, but I’m not holding on to it intentionally. It has become sort of this weird shield against getting too close to being disappointed by the Church again. If I expect people in the Church to judge me, I won’t be surprised. I don’t know how to find the balance between not getting hurt and not being bitter.
I’ve also been heartbroken by all the people in the Church who don’t say anything about the attacks against people who have different political beliefs. These are the people who don’t stand up against ostracization and subtle segregation. These are the people who think that ignoring someone’s beliefs is the same as accepting them. For me, my political beliefs are directly influenced by my faith, and I want people to know why and still respect me and see the value of our differences. I’m practically desperate for that acceptance. I think it’s why I’m so insistent on still dealing with people who have shown they aren’t going to open themselves to new ideas, who see my beliefs as dangerous or ungodly. I still want a church family, after everything that’s happened, but I’m terrified. I can’t tell who is going to be responsive to my beliefs or who will shut me out, either because they think I’ve strayed from the faith or because they just don’t want to deal with the conflicts of iron sharpening iron. There is no defining characteristic of that sort of thing. And in my experience, churches are more likely to be filled with the kind of people who would attack me, so is it any wonder I’m really cautious?
But I’m also really lonely. I thought it was possible to stay strong spiritually without any help from other Christians, but I was wrong. God help me.
A few days ago Dylan Farrow, adopted daughter of actress Mia Farrow, released an open letter detailing the abuse she endured beginning as a seven-year old. Actor, writer, and director Woody Allen was the perpetrator. I am not going to use the words “claims” or “alleges” or “alleged.” To believe that Dylan is lying is absurd. She has never sought money from him and he has not ever been charged. When the abuse was uncovered, the family decided not to go to court because doctors said that Dylan was too fragile. Also, it is never acceptable to question allegations of abuse as an outsider, for “She’s lying” to be the default response. It’s dangerous and cruel.
This has resurfaced for a number of reasons, one being that on the night of the Golden Globes, Diane Keaton gave a special speech honoring Woody Allen, and Ronan Farrow, Dylan’s brother, tweeted “Missed the Woody Allen tribute. Did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Mia Farrow also went to Twitter and said that she didn’t even watch the tribute and later retweeted her son’s response.
Dylan’s letter is incredibly painful to read and triggering for people who have gone through abuse. I won’t go into detail with it; the point that it raises is how do we respond to people who have created universally beloved art, but are also accused of horrendous actions? Should I enjoy a Woody Allen film?
I really won’t be able to for a while, especially certain films. In Manhattan, Woody Allen’s character is a grown man and is dating a 17-year old girl, who is actually portrayed by a 16-year old. That’s super creepy. Basically, any movie that he is in, I don’t want to see. But then I think about movies like Midnight in Paris, which is highly-regarded. My parents loved it. I don’t judge them for that, or anyone else who likes that movie, but I am deeply conflicted. I can’t even imagine how painful it would be for an abuse survivor to see the world fawning over their abuser. In celebrating Woody Allen’s art, celebrating him as a person, are we contributing to a culture that excuses people for their actions? Are we saying that the sexual abuse Dylan suffered is somehow “less bad” because of “how good” a Woody Allen movie is?
Does an abuser’s reaction to an accusation have a place in all this? Woody Allen has always denied any wrongdoing, even saying that Mia Farrow made her daughter lie about it. If he admitted to any part of it, would that make enjoying his movies a little less problematic? Well, at least he’s sorry. Is that good enough?
Woody Allen isn’t the only famous person who is extremely problematic. Roman Polanski raped a teenager and cannot enter the United States without facing 50 years in prison. Rob Lowe made a sex tape with a 16-year old and avoided being criminally charged by doing 20 hours of community service. R. Kelly had a big scandal involving multiple underage girls (one who tried to commit suicide). All these men (and other celebrities – male and female – who have committed crimes) still have very successful careers. Roman Polanski makes award-winning movies and works with every famous actor/actress under the sun. Rob Lowe has reinvented himself as a comic actor. R. Kelly continues to make music and recently performed on SNL with Lady Gaga. Is it possible to separate people from their art or should everything they touch be considered tainted? It’s easy to talk about “forgiveness” when we aren’t the ones who have been so deeply wounded, and a lot of the time, like Woody Allen, these people still don’t think they did anything wrong.
I don’t what the right thing to do is. I do know, however, that famous people should not get off the hook and be idolized. Acknowledge that there is some major darkness there and be sensitive that in supporting their work, you are also supporting the person in some small (or large, depending on your degree of appreciation) way. Don’t get touchy if someone looks at you sideways when they hear you listening to R. Kelly or talking about how awesome it is that Woody Allen is still relevant after so many years. They have good reason to question you.
C.S. Lewis quote
You all might as well accept that. They no longer designate a person who is a “rebel,” or someone who will never get a job, or any kind of delinquent. Anyone, from a grizzled biker to a Christian college freshman girl, might be sporting some ink.
It’s all about placement, like the real estate mantra of “Location, location, location.” I’ve been thinking about a tattoo for years, and have decided that I want words – small, simple text – on the inside of my wrists. It can be easily covered if need be, but is something I can easily show off as well, and most importantly, is in a place I can see.
Why tattoo, though? One of the many criticisms of tattooing is its permanency, but that is also one of its purposes. Yeah, it’s permanent. I want it to be. I want something meaningful to be literally engraved unto my body so I can’t forget it. It won’t wash off. Permanency is so important to some people that they get tattoos where their skin is literally carved into and the tattoo is the scar tissue that forms. I personally wouldn’t get this done (because I’m kind of wimpy about pain and knives), but I understand the reasoning. A lot of people think it’s body mutilation and weird, but it’s just sacrificing some personal comfort for a desired result. It hurts, yeah, but having the scar also means you don’t have to get retouches and go through more needles. I know some religious people who would think it’s some kind of sin or sign of self-hatred, or even that the cuts are parallel to pagan rituals where people would cut their skin out of grief for the dead, but if the tattooee has a specific reason for the process, then that’s what it’s about. There is such a thing as reading too much into something.
A tattoo would serve as a reminder of hope for me. I haven’t decided on the text I want, but I have options. One of them is a brief line from one of my favorite poems by Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gently into that dark night.” The phrase would be “blind eyes could blaze,” with two words on each wrist. To me, that line is a reminder to not give up even when it seems like all my strength is gone. I can’t necessarily see what’s ahead, but I’m still alive and fighting.
My other idea is also from Dylan Thomas poem: “And death shall have no dominion.” It is from the first stanza, last two lines. “Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.” It’s a victory cry. It’s a declaration of truth.
thank God for jealousy
for yearning love
for loving silences, sharp knives
for nights of fire and punished crimes
thank God for sleeplessness
for the daily grind
for rat races, repetitive blame
for wide-ruled lines and waiting for rain
thank God for open wounds
for unhealed scars
for pink-rimmed eyes, pinched nerves
for lessons hard learned and prayers that went unheard