Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The Dreams In Which I'm Dying
During most of the trip, we listened to BBC Radio One, which as good fortune would have it is one of the 653,287 channels available on Sirius satellite radio -- a special feature my friend Chris was sure to request when he rented the car we would be using to cruise around Las Vegas. The music on Radio One is generally very good (a lot of material not heard here in the states). The DJ's are, well, to co-opt an appropriate phrase, bloody brilliant (Scott Mills spent one afternoon buying Christmas presents for those on his list by calling QVC and ordering whatever happened to be on-screen at that particular moment, despite not being able to see exactly what kind of God-awful crap he was purchasing). The news being reported by Radio One at the time however, was ominous (a prolific serial killer was working his way through Ipswich's prostitutes, evoking memories of another legendary British murderer with a taste for women of the night). These snippets of carnage from eight time-zones away provided a strange contrast to the neon-lit, sugar-coated, overglossed surroundings in which we had chosen to immerse ourselves for five days. Vegas after all, in spite of an undeniably malevolent underbelly, is still America's playground -- a place where people come from miles around to indulge in gambling, $5.99 prime rib and the comedic stylings of Carrot Top, who as it turned out was annoying nightly in our very hotel.
There were moments though that I couldn't help but wonder if the fictional forensic detectives of the Vegas CSI wouldn't somehow be able to assist the overwhelmed DCIs in Ipswich with their hooker killer -- or at the very least turn down the lights in their squad room to make it look less like a police station and more like a lounge with a $20 cover charge.
Needless to say, I tried to put the serial killer out of my mind and go on about my way enjoying the massive hotel suite my wife had secured for the two of us -- with its whirlpool bath and unrivaled view of the strip; the days driving out to Red Rock Canyon and beyond; and of course the nights eating venison at Bobby Flay's and caviar at Red Square, losing money at the Hard Rock casino, drinking beer by the gallon and dancing on the tables at the Hofbrauhaus, and the highlight of the trip -- hosting an impromptu party in our room which involved several bottles of Makers Mark, a deck of cards, Cuban cigars, and watching Jackass Number Two on Spectravision.
Good times and good friends, making good memories. It's tough to ask for much more.
Despite an excellent turn of events which deposited our tired asses on a flight back to New York that was practically empty -- allowing us the comfort of stretching out and relaxing -- mine and Jayne's return to reality was marked by the kind of general malaise we've come to expect whenever one of our mini-vacations comes to its inevitably abrupt end. Neither of us was ready to return to the day-to-day drudgery of our lives here in the Manhattan meat-grinder -- she with her very long hours, me with my very bad hours -- both of us slaves to an unpredictable subway schedule and a pathetic wage. For me personally, it was a situation made worse when I in fact returned to work to find that the "big story" holding the rapt attention of my superiors centered around three missing mountain climbers who'd gotten themselves lost somewhere on Mount Hood in Oregon. It seemed nothing less than an attempt to create and perpetuate a national obsession with an ongoing incident that in my mind merited no more than a passing glance or two before each weather segment -- one which had been blown so far out of proportion as to become an infuriating waste of time and resources, both for the overworked rescue crews forced to put their own lives in jeopardy to help find these three idiots who were selfish and stupid enough to take the risk of going up the mountain in the first place, and for the network news crews covering the search. My first day back however did yield at least one hilariously Darwinist moment which helped to put the possible mindset of the missing climbers into quick perspective: with cameras from around the country trained on her, the mother of one of the hikers made an impassioned plea to Mother Nature herself, saying, "I want the mountain to release our sons. The mountain has no right to keep our sons." It was at this moment that I realized that the cost of the search -- whatever that may have been -- was money and effort well-spent.
Later, during that first day back at work, it was announced that an arrest had been made in the case of the Ipswich serial murders.
I read over the incoming wire reports carefully, then purposely ratcheted my focus away from them -- well aware that my co-workers might consider my fascination with the case to be unduly morbid and probably a little disturbing.
I chose instead to concentrate on the surprising fact that I, yes I, had been chosen to receive the honor of being named Time magazine's "Person of the Year."
And I hadn't even prepared a speech.
As the magazine described in tones both glowing and effusive, I had apparently changed the world over the past year by taking control of what I and those around me saw, heard and felt. I had changed the political landscape through blogging. I had taken record executives out behind the figurative tool shed with a figurative rifle by downloading whatever kind of music I wanted to hear -- callously and insousciantly tossing aside their notions of what should and shouldn't be popular. I had become my own network executive by ordering television shows quite literally "on demand." I had made myself seen and heard through sites like MySpace and YouTube and through that, had become the single most powerful person in the world -- master of my own little info-tainment universe. I was the king of all I surveyed.
My immediate reaction to this, the official coronation of the new "Me" generation, was to feel a smile curl at the sides of my mouth. Certainly the editors of Time had made a choice which was not only assuredly clever, but one with which no one reading the magazine would dare argue. It was the ultimate crowd-pleaser, slyly cast in the form of a desire to appeal to no crowd whatsoever.
My second reaction was to agree that indeed, in some ways I was worthy of such an honor. Over the past year, I had, after all, started my own website which I continued to use to air my views, hone my skills, promote myself as a writer and develop a surprisingly extensive fan-base. I had staked out a virtual apartment on MySpace which I used to promote my other site and further increase my visibility; I had also made a few new "friends" in the process -- one even being BBC Radio One DJ Scott Mills, from whom I fully expect to receive a set of QVC's Fenton Art Glass Legacy Bell figurines at any moment. I had contributed to the financial ruin of one of my old haunts, Tower Records, by downloading my music on-line and, in a somewhat ironic twist given my chosen profession, had even thumbed my nose at the television ratings system and the advertisers it kept in business by opting to watch Battlestar Galactica on its new Chez-approved, on-demand time of 10am Sunday mornings.
These quiet musings led me to wonder whether I'd be a just king or an iron-fisted demagogue -- whether I'd rule my domain with justice and mercy, or oppressive brutality. I had been single-handedly responsible for killing off the old world and shrugging off its bonds, I deserved to wallow in the spoils, didn't I?
But then came another reaction -- one I've grown far too accustomed to lately -- and it brought my dreams of avarice crashing down around me.
I felt tears begin to pool in my eyes, and I was forced to get up from my desk and surreptitiously make my way to the bathroom where I found an empty stall in which to sit and quietly cry.
This is the way it's been for some time now.
This is because I suffer from severe depression.
There's a difference between being melancholy and being truly, clinically depressed. I've always reveled in a certain amount of melancholy, and mined that territory to fuel my artistic endeavors throughout the years. It's a well-worn stereotype that writers have an inherently sad streak -- being that the very act of writing is one done in isolation, far outside the scrutinous realm of polite society. This, however -- the way I feel these days -- is different. Despite my wish to believe otherwise, I'm forced to acknowledge that the brain surgery I underwent back in April of this year changed me monumentally -- both physically and mentally. I've mentioned before that the face I see in the mirror no longer resembles the face I've been staring at for years into decades, and I've come to realize that this is not simply a natural product of the aging process. The pinball-sized tumor which lived in my head for God-knows-how-long warped my brain chemistry and destroyed a good portion of the gland which regulates my hormones. The result is that my skin -- once a supple and oily indicator of my Italian heritage -- is now dry, cracked and papery-thin due to a lack of testosterone. The lack of that same hormone has also decreased my sex-drive to practically nil, and although I admit that it's somewhat refreshing to be mercifully free from the tyranny of my own penis for the first time in my life, it's put a strain on the desire of my wife and I to start a family.
I'm constantly exhausted. I rarely have the drive to do anything other than sleep. I have painfully vivid dreams from which I typically wake up sobbing. I feel desperate and alone, even when I'm surrounded by people I love and who love me. I'm a walking pharmacy of pills and hormone replacements.
I sat in the bathtub in Vegas, crying to myself, when no one was looking.
I have no doubt that there are outside factors contributing to my current state-of-mind: turning 37 and being forced to take stock of a life which bears little resemblance to the one I had hoped for for myself and my loved ones; the continuing pressure of a career which I lost a hunger for years ago; the long, cold nights and short days of winter; as I recently stated in no uncertain terms, the overwhelming feeling and punishing belief that I'm damaged beyond repair; and then, most recently, the last-minute collapse of what would have been a stellar and potentially lucrative book deal. It's all been a lot to swallow whole.
At the core of it though, is the tumor, and its lasting effect on who I am -- on my sense-of-self. It's a disconcerting feeling beyond description to simply not feel like the person you've been for so long. It's also a feeling that can't be put into words in any meaningful way. How do I feel? I can't explain it; I just don't feel like me.
The most portentous by-product of this feeling -- the very recent weight of it -- is the effect that it's had on my writing. I promised long ago that this little experiment of mine would never become so self-indulgent as to be an ongoing description of what was happening to me right now, at this moment. To put it succinctly, this blog would never be a "blog," in the traditional sense. I wanted to write about universal themes and voice my admittedly worthless opinion on a host of issues and, aside from a few rare occasions when I've felt the absolute need to wear my heart on my virtual sleeve, I hope I've done just that. Anything else wouldn't make for any sort of good reading by anyone -- not even myself. That's the problem I now find myself faced with though: I've used this site not so much to help me cathartically work through my own personal tragedies as I have to spin some of that pain and discomfort into gold in the hope of landing an audience, and in turn, a career as a writer. This is a different situation if only because it's caused me -- for the first time since starting this site seven months ago -- to be an unfocused mess who can't seem to string together a series of clear thoughts, much less perform at my usual level of semi-hilarious pithiness.
So where do I go from here?
To a counselor of course and -- despite advice to the contrary from internationally-renowned neurologist Dr. Tom Cruise -- to a psychiatrist.
The one promise that I'm willing to make is that I will do my absolute damndest to make sure that my output on these pages doesn't suffer. Over the past seven months, this has been one of my few true joys -- one my wife has recognized and encouraged -- and I refuse to allow it to suffer, even if I do occasionally. The show must go on, and it damn well will.
On my second day back at work, after spending an evening pondering whether or not I was worthy to be crowned "Person of the Year" by the gentle mental giants over at Time, I learned more about the suspect in custody in Ipswich.
I learned that he was 37-years-old.
I learned that he had a site on MySpace.
I learned that he too, had been named Time magazine's Person of the Year.