Monday, July 9, 2012

Like You Never Had Wings

I've been listening to metal in one form or another since 1986.  Even considering that I foolishly gave up on the genre sometime in the mid-90's (thanks a lot, Korn, and double fuck you, Metallica), and that I fully embraced punk rock in my 20's...and that my lifestyle became decidedly UNmetal in recent years (though still preferable to NUmetal), the genre never went out of rotation for me.

Because even though I've lived a very fortunate life, I've always been one for extreme peaks and valleys.  And metal has always gotten me through both.

When I constantly felt like a dork and a misfit back in high school, Metallica's "Fade to Black" and Megadeth's "My Last Words" were the soundtrack to my angst.

Back in college, when I didn't get that summer job I wanted so badly at the Library of Congress, it was Mr. Danzig's "Long Way Back From Hell" that I brooded over.

And these past few years, when I resentfully marched myself out of the Judiciary Square Metro station each morning to a job - and perhaps even a career - that I had tragically fallen out of love with, more often than not I'd damage my ear drums to the trifecta of Lamb of God's "Black Label", Bolt Thrower's "The Killchain" and Sepultura's "Dead Embryonic Cells" to gear myself up for what lay ahead.

Now listen: I know that blogging about work is about as dumb as eating Buffalo Wings while watching porn, but this is kind of important:

I had become very frustrated about what my career had become.  Frustrated, angry and sad, in fact.  The things I most excelled at in my profession - the things that brought me true joy -- seemed to have become oddly devalued and out of reach as my duties morphed.  Conversely, my daily tasks somehow felt at once mundane and impossible.  The more I committed myself to them, the more I felt buoyed on all sides by inescapable feelings of failure and anxiety.

Then there were the meetings in Boston and Texas and Oklahoma.  And the nearly weekly day trips to New York that would kick off with a 4:00 AM wake up, a 6:00 AM train and a walk back through the front door never before 10:00 PM. All to attend command performances at which I typically felt completely out of place and occasionally just plain lost (or as my supervisors repeatedly put it, "invaluable").

I felt trapped.  I ate more.  I drank more.  I weighed more.  I slept less.  

I withdrew from my best friends, and - even worse - came to resent several of them.  My sense of humor became mean-spirited as I accepted my own unhappiness. 

In time, my confidence eroded and the skills in which I took the most pride seemed to atrophy before me. For the life of me, I could not summon the passion I once had for my job, and it made me feel worthless.
I was going through changes.  I was killing myself to live. I was going off the rails of my crazy train.

I was losing my fucking mind, more than once asking myself if these feelings - this nearly constant fear and anger and helplessness -- was, in fact, the tipping point where an irreversible psychological descent might begin.

The nine minutes of metal I would listen to every morning served as so much more than an outlet for what I look back on now as impotent rage; it was a liberation of my spirit. As every primal scream has ever been, it was a declaration of a time when I had somehow shackled myself to an identity and a value system to which I had never aspired.

It took a hell of a long time to gather the courage to resign from that job, and as difficult as the decision was, the process of actually walking out the door was even harder.  My entire last week on the job I felt out of place, guilty and very uncertain about my decision.  I was terribly sad to be leaving the many coworkers who I liked and respected, even if we weren't meant to be together.

That final week, I fiddled with my iPod compulsively during my commute, never quite finding music that felt appropriate.  I was still anxious, but all of the anger had been drained from me. In fact, I was exhausted all week, and nothing about metal energized me.

My last day in the office was a Friday, and by some fluke of scheduling, several of my closest teammates were out for scheduled vacations that day.  That made it easier to stay late and slip out once everyone had left.  It was lonely, but it was fitting: this was, after all, my choosing.

Once again, I sat on the metro platform, smashing the shuffle on the iPod, hoping for anything that might bring me to a fitting place on a day when I felt a little bit sad and a little bit relieved, but mostly very alone.  Hopeful, but alone.

Taking my seat on the metro train, I kept fiddling with the iPod.  And moments later, the Deftones' "Change in the House of Flies" came up.

Even in the best of moods, that song will always have the potential to send me to the depths of despair.  Whatever the lyrics are actually about, it always stuck me as a requiem for a loved one who had decayed unnecessarily ...and by their own doing:

I watched a change in you 
 It's like you never had wings  

It all hit just a little too close to home.

Welling with a true feeling of horror and a sense of something that felt much like grief, I quickly hit the FWD button once again.  I paused, I swallowed, I scowled and I waited.

Every adult knows that immediately after a lump forms in their throat, there is a significant moment whereupon they can choose to indulge their ego's need for dignity, or their nervous system's need for relief.

But as the next track loaded, there was no decision to be made.  Evening rush hour be damned, as Mick Jagger sang that "she would never say where she came from," I began to cry just slightly.

After all of this talk about metal -- about powerlessness and anger and release, about it "being there for me" when things became dark -- it turned out that the genre wasn't to provide the emotional bookend to the past seven and a half years.

On a day when I may have finally learned to separate my sadness from my anger, when I was choosing "farewell" over "fuck you," it was time for something different.

That was three weeks ago.  I haven't listened to much metal since.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I gotta be honest, sharing something like this is pretty amazing. Brutally honest, and as someone who calls you a friend, my heart broke for you while reading it.

I congratulate you on your courage both for leaving the job and for sharing this story. The best, most honest thing I've read online in a very long time. Thanks for sharing it.