Loneliness is Crowded Room

Sometimes the universe sends us signals.  You know what I mean and you see it all the time.  There is that horrid Prius commercial that is so ubiquitous that I’m now nauseous when it airs.  Clearly it was that man’s time to buy a Prius and change his life.  Other times, the universe sends us false signals.  On one unnamed TV show, the lead sees the same number over and over and over.  Realizing it’s a sign, he engages is risky behavior centered on that number with disastrous results. (I’m sure many of you will binge the show later so I’ll keep the title covered.  Hint: it is not Firefly, Game of Thrones or Real Housewives of Atlanta.)

Similarly, I’ve been a bit of a funk for a while.  I’m not great at hiding that, and my four loyal readers know I often process my moods here.  And by often, I mean about 10% of the time that I start to.  I do edit myself a little and I really don’t want to turn this into a forum people avoid.  No, not you Sir. I know you are here for the Ashley bashing, that is located here.  But today, the fingers type, the words flow, and the Oxford Comma prevails.  What is going on around me?

The commute and the attitudes around me in the office weigh heavy on my generally happy soul.  For those of you that don’t know, I leave the house at 6am and return home generally after 6, too often towards 7.  That’s 75-90 minutes in the morning and 2 hours on the way home after spending day in a cube where there is limited human interaction and too much of it revolves around not meeting hidden expectations and the constant implication that no one is working enough hours.  Keep in mind that I am not a piecemeal factory worker or laborer (and both are fine, honorable jobs) – I think, I plan, I influence to gain results.  There is no clock measuring my thoughts thinking &  ideas.  When a thought hits me and I work on it, it can be driving, doing dishes or at 3am coming out of a dream.  I’m generally engaged 12-18 hours a day on what I work on.  So why the ridiculous obsession over time?

Just because I’m paid hourly doesn’t mean I don’t put in lots of time that is not technically on the clock.  Oh, and 40 hours a week is the absolute maximum.  I once made the mistake of working 2 hours on a Sunday, because something came to me late on Friday, which I would need to act on early the next Monday.  My hours didn’t exceed 40, but I was told in no uncertain terms that anything other than 8 per day, Monday through Friday would require advance approval.  I keep forgetting that not everyone sees me as the adult I believe I am.

Every day for the last week and way too much for way too often, I keep hearing the seminal hard rock anthem “Closing Time” by Semisonic.  (I looked for the sarcasm sans font, but couldn’t find it and I know WordPress does not feature it.)  As silly as the song is about the hook up life at 2am, one phrase stands out.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Is the universe trying to tell me to move on and find a new beginning, a new cubicle?  When do I become too old to be attractive in the new economy of disposable workers?  Are my experience and skills an unwanted commodity, the Filet-O-Fish of the work world?  How heavy is the baggage that is my gray hair and wrinkles?  Can I embrace the reality of my fading youth, yet still see that experience and wisdom are liabilities in my world?  What is my place?  Is there a new beginning to be sought?

And no, I’m not having a midlife crisis. But much weighs heavy.  And I consider the adage about the grass being greener elsewhere and see my lawn turning brown due to drought based water restrictions.  I’m not one to take the easy route. I’m not quitter.  Of course I think about it all the time, but in the end I do the right thing, even when it’s the more difficult, arduous path.  Maybe I should have been a mountain goat.

Today, I sat in traffic behind some unseen delay on the approach to the bridge.  Of course I heard the song about the “last call for alcohol”.  Seriously? People paid for that record?  But then I realized that it was part of a shock and awe bombardment of sad, aching songs.  Like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  Horrified at the sonic sneak attack on my already fragile emotional state, I embraced the sadness.  For more than 30 minutes I sat, not hearing an uplifting note.  8 stations, making sure I paid attention.  Of course I skipped over the Eagles and Journey, it is in my DNA.

There were songs about the  break ups to come.  And then the actual breaking up and the aftermath that follows – longing, regret, and sadness.  Lonely sailors waiting for their bitter end, stranded on an island without Gilligan.  No wonder I spent my youth listening to mostly progressive rock, there are very few love songs and their opposite numbers.  And in those days I had nothing to measure songs of the heart against.  With age comes experience, and those experiences yield so many different yardsticks to use as needed.  I had several in use today.

I sit here, silent, typing, and reflecting on how I’ve been feeling; the loss of empowerment and the shrinking of my ego.  The sadness of the forgotten wrench in the bottom of the tool box, replaced by a shiny new tool straight from a well-produced Kickstarter campaign, left to rust in the dark.

Years ago, I was driving to pick up a date.  Yes, this was over 30 years ago.  One of my favorite songs came on the radio.  “Dance Away” by Roxy Music.  I always loved that song.  But in that instance, that song of finding solace in music and motion, became something different.  It became the manifestation of a rough break up a few months prior.  Tears flowed and I think I finished processing the pain I was holding.   Decades later, I still love that song and I still feel the emotions of that relationship ending. And sometimes I feel the relief of finally recognizing how to move on.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just musing aloud.  Much like music this morning, this silent, six by six cubicle is quite sad and lonely.  Perhaps I can figure out a way to make these days better and repurpose that discarded wrench.  Just typing this out helps.

Here are few songs to help you see the frame of my day.

Dance Away, Roxy Music

A Salty Dog, Procol Harum

Childhood’s End, Pink Floyd

Train in Vain, The Clash

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A Musical Interlude

After the crowded halls of the Con and the crowded streets of Chicago, the walk down the platform from the train to the stairs is eerily empty.   Every 20 seconds or so an empty eyed urbanite wanders past me, unsure whether to wobble left or right as though they have never seen someone come into town.  As if all-knowing, the Genie in my iphone cued up one of my favorite songs.  It had been a while since I had heard it.

I pulled out the phone to look at the iconic cover.  I smiled even as the tune evoked sadness, but echoed hopeful strains.  I wandered to my favorite Peet’s, lost in the melodies, not the lyrics.  At various points in the song, hope is given over to despair.  Even with my caffeine fix in hand, the song resonated within.  And it struck home.

     You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
     You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.

There is something about getting older that hits you at strange times.  I don’t feel 50, but I am.  That age when society starts thinking less of you.  We all joke about AARP and their invitations that start arriving shortly after your 49th birthday.  Life seems more about what I’ve done than what I can and will do.  That’s hard.  It takes a concerted effort to change those thoughts and subsequent actions.

A week ago I had a great exchange with a fellow Cal grad.  His eyes sparkled when I talked about being in Memorial Stadium on November 20th 1982.  That was the day that Cal held John Elway in check for 59:56 only to see him single-handedly take the Cardinal (who names their team a color? I think of them as the Robber Barons, which did win the student vote) to a seemingly game winning field goal.  Stanford 20, Cal 19.  Dismay reigned.  Once again the Cal team of my tenure grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  What could happen in 4 seconds?

Quite a bit as turned out.  2 million people will probably tell you they were there.  I was one of the 60,000 or so in the stands, sitting in the middle of the Big C in the student section with my poker group, a junior among graduating seniors. It was about to be the saddest of the games I saw as student.  It was to be the last game I saw as a student.

4 seconds – a lifetime in slow motion. 5 laterals (one disputed, one blindly over a shoulder), a band on the field and crushed saxophone player later, Cal scored. I was in shock.  The stadium erupted.  My friends all ran down the bleachers to run on the field.  A bit shell-shocked, I sat there and guarded our belongings.  I know, even though you think of me as mischievous, I am generally the responsible one.

I’m talking to my fellow alum.  There is joy in my reminisces and his eyes light up a bit as I relate my memories.  It’s a important moment in our shared history. It’s a party and even I know I’m drunk and slurring just a bit.  That doesn’t mean my mind has seized up. Of course as I recreate this day to my new friend, I realize he was still in diapers as my 20 year old self sat in that stadium. The song is right, it’s getting harder; he’s not a kid.

     Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
     If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

Again, the lyrics echo where I’m at.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and much to be thankful for.  There is a transition that has been going on for some time.  We spend our younger years working, striving, motivated to achieve.  As we grow older, especially past 40 and then 45, workers have become disposable as jobs are off-shored and employment for life becomes a distant memory.  I believe I understand why it’s called the rat race.  Malaise sets in as what we focused much of our efforts on previously, is no longer within our reach. Life becomes a cycle of paychecks and sustenance. Our egos and self-image need to find new things to hold on to, simpler achievements to find joy and continued rebirth in.  Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in my garden.  Even if my plants suffer, I can try again; the sun will rise, the plants will grow and there is no pink slip at the end of the rainbow.

At this point, I often feel as out of place as beast of burden in the industrial age.

Dogs – Waters and Gilmour

Animals. Pink Floyd, 1977