Monday, January 13, 2014

defining disappointment

Well? I'm disappointed

I dislike this feeling, but who doesn't? I'm the first to admit I was raised in suburbia with very few problems and very few needs or wants, and though I had suffered the same disappointment any suburban kid experiences (didn't get the bike for Christmas, didn't get to go bowling with my friends, didn't get into the soldout movie), I hadn't identified a feeling as disappointment until I was 12.

When I was in the eighth grade, we were one of only a handful of families with cable. I'm firmly entrenched in the MTV generation and maybe, just maybe I still have weird fantasies about Rik Emmett, Joe Elliott, and Geddy Lee (and though my love for him came later, James Hetfield remains on my list of five people I'm allowed to sleep with if I ever meet them for real).

Unrelated: Am I the only person who has a sub-list of five people I feel I should be allowed to sleep with if they become famous? It's a dangerous list. I have some really talented friends and acquaintances.

Back to the eighth grade where my list of five started with Rik, Joe, and Geddy (with a hint of Jane Fonda from Barbarella, but that's another post for another kind of blog). I had a fantasy that Rik Emmett would get throat cancer and would have a concert in Boston but would need emergency care and I would break my arm and we would end up in the same hospital room and he would fall madly in love with me and write a song like Lay it on the Line just for me.

I would watch MTV for hours, waiting for Def Leppard's video Bringin' on the Heartbreak (pre one-armed drummer) while facing away from the television, stretched out on my stomach on the couch, so I could watch the video by looking over my shoulder and arching my back because I thought my ass was my greatest asset. So, to recap, I would pose all sexy for the television. (I was 12. Yeah. Kids these days. Yeesh.)

Another fantasy involved a gun man coming into the school library and holding everyone hostage. I, of course, would save the day with a few well timed and perfectly executed karate kicks. My art teacher, upon whom I had an enormous crush, would fall madly in love with me and I would become the new Helga. This was before guns in schools was a reality, but way after the Texas Bell Tower and absolutely after I had viewed those disturbing and iconic Kent State and nepalm images. And, it was definitely after John Hinckley crushed on Jodie Foster and after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As a kid, even without talk of metal detectors in schools, I had no doubt that a gunman could come into my school and start shooting.

I promise there's a reason I bring all of this up. When it comes to removing meat and cutting the cheese (heh-heh) from my diet, my head isn't in the game. I'm still waking up every morning with "Today is a new day. Today I eat what I'm supposed to eat." And, at the end of the night, I'm still saying, "There's always tomorrow."

I've gained so much weight and my eyes are puffy and I have acne and my clothes aren't fitting the way I want them to.

I'm disappointed in myself for falling off or falling away or whatever you want to call it when you say you're going to do something and then you fail. This is tricky territory. When I hope for something to happen, I hold those hopes in check so I won't be disappointed with my friends and family. Plans get broken. People blow people off. A car breaks down. Someone gets the flu. These things happen and I force myself not to be hurt or angry or upset. It works for the most part. I'm okay with controlling my enthusiasm in order to avoid bitter disappointment. But, what if it's me? What if I thought I could actually do this? What if I'm the disappointment?

I'm an Irish girl raised Catholic in New England. I always carry a low hum of self-loathing and disappointment. I mean, without feeling major disappointment in oneself on a regular basis, what do you have left? It works along the same reasoning as not wanting to wash my really old car out of fear the entire thing will fall apart. Without the dirt, what is it? And, here I go, piling more disappointment onto myself because I ate Christmas cookies this week. I partook in some homemade nachos with the most delicious chicken while the Pats nailed it in the playoff game this weekend. I ate butter and cream and meat. I ate a bagel

When I was 12, I thought I might be a musician. I wasn't adept at playing any particular musical instrument, but I could read and write music. It made sense to me. I could hum the music in my head just by looking at the paper. I knew what sounded good and what didn't. I recognized the humor and the level of communication that happens between two guitarists. I loved ballads and anthems because they were so completely ridiculous.

I spent a lot of time alone. My sisters and brothers had all moved out of the house and my mother had very recently moved into assisted living to care for her Multiple Sclerosis. I had very few friends because I was a handful. I was kind of a bigshot know-it-all pain in the ass who felt privileged and special and entitled. And, I was like Teflon when it came to girlfriends. Once anyone got too close, they would just slide right off and walk away.

I spent hours in my bedroom alone. I would seek out all the LPs I could find in my sister's old room and raid my mom's and dad's stash in our living room and pile albums onto the little turntable in my bedroom. Triumph (Allied Forces); Peter, Paul, and Mary (Peter, Paul, and Mommy); Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man); The Who (Who's Next); Elvis Presley (Sun Sessions); The Cars (The Cars); The Muppets (The Muppet Movie); Carole Bayer Sager (Carole Bayer Sager); Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers, which had that super naughty and bulge-y jacket cover with a real zipper); Cat Stevens (Tea for the Tillerman); Peter Frampton (Frampton Comes Alive); Jeff Beck (There and Back); Supertramp (Breakfast in America); Dan Fogelberg (Phoenix); Styx (The Grand Illusion, before they got all domo domo); Queen (News of the World); Dolly Parton (Jolene). All piled up, each album dropping onto the turntable one by one until the needle was balanced on top of the heap and it was late at night and I couldn't sleep because the music kept going.

And, those are just the full LPs. Don't let me get started on the 45s. Plus, my dad would chase me around the house singing Ain't She Sweet and If You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl and Jeepers Creepers Where'd You Get Those Peepers. For someone with no instrumental talent and no ear for singing, I was a goner.

Side note: This reminds me all of this was happening around the time backtracking was super popular, after the whole "Paul is dead" business and right around the "Ozzy worships satan" period. I was friends with a kid I knew from band. He had all the markings of an '80s musician. David Bowie shag cut, skinny black tie with a white shirt, awkward body language, skinny little butt. I think he played more than one instrument, but in band he played the keyboard. Think Alan Hunter without the suspenders meets Mitch Taylor in a tie.

This kid would record himself playing music and occasionally hand one of the tapes over to me. It was super sweet. One day, he handed me a tape and said he had been practicing backtracking and he had "you know, basically recorded all my thoughts about life and stuff."

And this is what kind of an asshole I was. I immediately shared it with a friend who helped me slowly and meticulously take the tape apart, flip it, and play it back. His message?

"This song is baaaaaaackwards...this song is baaaaaackwards."

Back to the original post: I'm not claiming I had good taste in music and I definitely don't pretend to have good musical taste now, but music was important to me. Popular music was important to me. You can imagine my enthusiasm when I heard MTV would be airing, in its entirety, Tommy when I was in the eighth grade. (Can you guess what I love about the clip I just linked? Pimball. That's awesome.)

I was blind with excitement. My father had planned a dinner party or some such gathering on the night of the premiere and I told him, in no uncertain terms, nobody, and I meant NOBODY, was to disturb me in the TV room, a converted screened-in porch located just off the dining room, and a mere eight feet from where my father kept his home bar. It was the early '80s. Everyone had a working bar and a recently retired fondue pot in the house.

I made up a plate of food--probably scrambled hamburg with mashed potatoes--poured myself a ginger ale, and marched myself into the TV room, which we still called "the sun porch." The only thing keeping me from the party noise was an old french glass door, most likely built and installed in the 1930s. I could see everyone and everyone could see me.

I set up a TV tray and clicked 41 into the heavy metal remote. (We had a remote control for our TV!) Channel 41. The new Music Television station. It started. I saw some scenes from World War II and then TSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH..... Static. Nothing. The movie was gone. No Roger Daltry. No Elton John. No Ann-Margret. I was devastated. Like the moment I identified Steve Allen doing a poetic read of Donna Summer's Hot Stuff in 1980 as comedy, this was the first moment I could identify, for me, soul-crushing disappointment. The knowledge that just because you want something so badly to happen, that's not enough to make it happen. Nothing ever becomes what you want it to be and wishing for it gets you nowhere, counting on it will get you nowhere. My mother wasn't coming home. My brothers and sisters had all moved out. I was alone on the floor staring at static and listening to my father's laughter in the other room.

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