14 April 2018

A Trio of Topics: Music and Me, Crowded Busses, Depression Again



I read this article on the BBC about how music from our teenage years stays with us longer and has more of an influence on us than music from other times. The writer went on to say: "The brain’s memory systems are at their most efficient during late adolescence and early adulthood. We also experience many things then for the first time, which makes them particularly memorable. But the key reason that we return to songs and anecdotes from this period of our lives is that they remind us who we are. It is during these formative years that we make many crucial life-changing decisions, initiate significant long-term relationships and establish the cultural and political beliefs which form our identity." I found this all particularly interesting because in recent years I've been listening to music that was popular and meaningful in my youth. Specifically music from just before my teen years and just after. This came about after a long period in my life when I was almost exclusively listening to jazz. I don't know what brought about the change but I rarely listen to jazz anymore. Probably 80% of the music I listen to is from when I was between nine and 25 years old. Some of it evokes particular memories. Some recall past loves or friends or events. It bathes me in the warmth of nostalgia. It can inspire me, make me feel sentimental or can just comfort me. When I was young I looked for wisdom in rock songs. I was convinced at various times that people such as The Who or David Bowie or Neil Young held the key answers to life itself. Certainly their music was an integral part of a path toward enlightenment. Other music was square, passé, meaningless drivel. In my mind rock and roll singers were sages at least and messiahs at best. I searched through their lyrics for meaning. But I also got off on the rhythm. It was so easy to dance and bounce and sway and celebrate to rock music. Alcohol and drugs helped fuel the excitement. I wanted noting to do with the hokey melodies of country and western or the boredom of classical or the banality of pop music. I liked Soul music too because it was cool and beautiful and urban. But rock provided the soundtrack to my life as it does again today. Maybe it allows me to feel young again (then again, I haven't started feeling old)or maybe it allows me to live in times of promise rather than in the Autumn of my years. Hell, I don't know, maybe I always liked it better and the jazz thing was just what I should be wondering about. Dunno. Just like what I like.

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I take a commuter bus to San Francisco everyday, then walk a few blocks to where I catch a local bus to work. It is almost always crowded, often packed to the gills. Fortunately there are always seats available when I get on (as is the case on my return trip). Earlier this week the bus was particularly sardine can like. Perhaps the preceding bus hadn't come. I got just about the last seat on the bus. A few stops later passengers were wedged in tight. Then we got to the stop at Market Street where a lot of people always get on. I happened to glance toward the front of the bus and the scene was similar to the fall of Saigon. It was so packed that the driver couldn't close the doors, even the front one. Passengers literally had one leg on the bus and one leg out. For the life of me I can't imagine what they were thinking. The driver -- quite firmly -- let people know two things: it was impossible to start the bus unless some people got off and there was another bus less than a minute behind. His announcement -- repeated several times -- was to no avail. Experienced as I am at bus riding I was not really surprised. Some folks will pile onto a bus like it is the last one they'll ever see. Many are so desperate to get on that they'll bull past people who are trying to get off and indeed push such people further back in. I notice such situations are more prevalent on the #30 that I was on on the morning in question and that I ride twice daily on weekdays. I have to be careful here but....This is a bus that goes through Chinatown and most of the people who are so desperate to pile on busses are clearly Chinese and many of them are late middle age or older. In fact a lot of them are elderly. I am not trying to disparage my Chinese brothers and sisters, I am merely stating a fact. Not a few San Franciscans, and residents in other metropolitan areas, hold quite dim views of Chinese people because of their behavior commuting or in other crowded situations. I do not hold the worst actions of a few members of a group against the group as a whole. In the case these older Chinese citizens I realize that there are cultural factors at play. Another example being that when I taught middle school, roughly half of my students were African American. Many Black students were likely to speak up spontaneously without first being recognized as the rules of a classroom dictate. As a teacher I had to walk the fine line between maintaining school policy and being culturally sensitive. It isn't necessarily easy to live in a multi-cultural society but it is ultimately rewarding. Anyhoo, getting back to the bus ride, the driver finally had to become adamant (read: angry) about people getting off and was able to "persuade" those who were half off to get the hell off. The thing is that those people who had to get off were able -- within a minute -- to board a bus that was likely half empty and comfortably take a seat. Maybe they should have thought about that before trying to ride on the hood.

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So what happens a lot now is that I'll start to write and maybe manage a sentence or a paragraph or nothing at all and I'll stare at the screen for a bit and mind you I'm already depressed and so the inability to write will make me more depressed and the gloom will envelop me and writing will become impossible. So I'll just quit. I haven't found that there's anything I can do in such situations that will work. Depression is like that. You can have the best of intentions and be determined not to succumb but telling the depression to go away is like trying to tell a broken bone to stop bothering you. In a sense a broken bone is easier to deal with because the doctor can fix you right up and in within a predictable time the bone will heal. Maybe someday my depression will "heal" but it's been a pretty constant companion for three years now and I only occasionally get a respite. I've not given up fighting it by any means and the process of trying to eliminate the depression is a worthwhile endeavor that yields benefits. For example my weekly sessions with my psychiatrist -- while failing to eradicate the depression -- have borne much fruit. For many people -- myself included -- therapy is a life long process that is a constant source of insight into one's life and into the human experience. Of course it helps to have a good doctor and I currently do. Meds have their place though as I've learned they come fraught with peril, specifically in the form on side effects. I'm currently on meds that don't have any side effects but then again they haven't totally freed me from melancholia. I've taken things that have numbed the pain but they've also numbed me in general leaving me closer to the zombie that a sentient human being. I'll here conclude as I always do when writing about depression, I've got much to happy about and am grateful for life's bountiful gifts. 

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