Monday, August 6, 2012

"I Can See Clearly Now"


In eleventh and twelfth grades I had a phenomenal math teacher named Julie Marcellus who taught me many things but who I also remember for introducing me to the phrase, "That's a 'duh' thing to say." She used that often on me, always with a smile, and it has stuck with me through today. Now that you know that bit of my history I feel safe in saying that the next thing I'm going to write is a pretty "duh" thing to say.

I looked out the bathroom window that I cleaned this weekend and thought, with no small sense of marvel, "hey, that's a really clean window."

Unpacking that statement and getting past "duh" is the goal of this essay.

Of course the window is clean. I cleaned it. But things aren't that simple inside my head. As I was cleaning it, I kept seeing streak after streak, the flaking paint, the cracked glazing, and the streaks (did I mention those?). I'm not the cleanest guy in the world and hadn't washed that particular window in at least five years prior to this weekend. Anything was bound to be an improvement, right?

The clean that I saw tonight though wasn't just a matter of a small improvement on a bad situation. No, the window was really clean, clear, almost perfect. I stared through it and saw the world clearly. I even stopped to look close, searching for streaks, but there weren't any. The window, really is clean.

Big freaking deal.

Well, yeah, it is a big freaking deal to a person who has some trouble accepting success.

As I wrote earlier in the week, I've been in a running slump of late. I had a bad run yesterday, no run today, and I'm not sure what tomorrow will hold. I've had slumps in other areas too. I haven't written a poem in a while. I've been having trouble getting off the couch (damn the Olympics). And I have generally struggled with my mood.

In this kind of mood I'm inclined to look at the world darkly. I'm likely to see the window as imperfect or to just not notice it at all. It's odd for me, in this mood, to see not only that the window is clean but that I was the force that cleaned it. On top of that, noticing that I did a good job even though I thought at the time I was crapping it up is surprising.

This evening, sitting on the front steps watching the world go by, I apologized to my wife that I've been down and out of things for the last week and a half. I said, "I don't think I've been terrible, and I'm not doing it on purpose, but I thought I should at least let you know that I've noticed I'm not easy to get along with right now." She thanked me and smiled, told me that I haven't been that bad and said it was alright. I think she can tell that I'm learning to take care of myself and that I'm also coming to understand something about how to take care of others when I'm struggling.

In the past I thought I had to snap out of it in order to be a good husband and father. I had to get past it or run around it. I had to push the feeling away and repress it, act as though I was fine. Otherwise I was being self-indulgent and a bad guy. I'm learning that its better to be honest. I don't get to use it as an excuse to behave badly, but I don't have to wish it away and try to behave perfectly. Instead, I can acknowledge where I am, admit it to my family and friends, then try to exist in that state without panic.

The battle for me with any kind of mood swings or depression isn't to get over but to remain still and experience the feeling. When I do that, I don't have much of a problem. I mean, right now, nothing much has changed for me since I apologized to my wife. My mood has not shifted. I am not filled with energy. But I'm not anxious and that's a step for me. In fact, I can look out a window that I cleaned this weekend and see that it is good, that I did well, and that things are going to be okay.

"Hey, that's a really clean window," is a bit of a duh statement but even my math teacher would probably acknowledge that it's accurate and an elegant way of saying what I am coming to understand as I live day to day, try to think through new ideas, and, as always, write on.