I’m Still Here: A Survivor’s Guide to Optimism.

Yesterday while driving in to work and thumbing through CDs (finally growing tired of Mojo Magazine’s Dreamers mix of tracks inspired by Kate Bush), I found Band on the Run.

The line, “And the first one says to the second one there, ‘I hope you’re having fun.'” is one of my favorite lines.

And I realized that I think Paul McCartney is a rockstar because he has always been having fun. He has always been a happy person. My mother has loved every song McCartney has produced in his post-Beatles career, even the obscure electronic album he produced a few years back. And I finally figured out why.

No matter what, Paul’s music is always born out of happiness and I think that this comes through in his songs. While I admit that I am a less loyal fan than my mother, Ram and Band on the Run remain among my favorite albums.

My mother raised me and my siblings on the Beatles and post-Beatles solo albums. We watched the Help! (which was quite a lesson on absurdist surrealism for my young mind) and Hard Day’s Night movies on a regular basis. The living room was often booming with Beatles tracks. My mother was smart, so she started us on the early Beatles tracks all about holding hands and PG-rated love songs. (She introduced me to Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road and Rubber Soul when I was a teenager, and I had to find Revolver, Let it Be, and The White Album on my own.)

On a side note, I think my poor parents might have always been a little afraid that I would become a druggie or a mystic, or worse — both. (I am neither, but am a little bit of a mystic in the sense that I do love the great wonder induced by philosophic wisdom and perception-altering “magic” like Escher’s paintings.) As a child, I was obsessed with the Disney cartoon Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, I think that the Alice in Wonderland story was always viewed by my mother as being a drug-induced hallucination by a mad man. I wish this were not the case, as I think the story is incredibly valuable for those young philosophers like me and like Alice who wonder about the world in a really big way. Though I begged my mother for it every year, her response was always the same, “That movie is so bizarre. I don’t know why you like it.” So I would have to watch it when I was over at my cousin’s house.

alice-falling-down-rabbit-hole-1

Alice falling down the rabbit hole in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

And once when my parents caught me sneaking the VHS in the player, my mother scolded me (for doing something she had told me not to do, after I had asked her if I could watch it and she said no) and I cried and then hid in my uncle’s office by the round window in the attic. I felt safe there, watching the tips of trees and the sky through the little window. So I think my mother also protected me from the Beatles “drug” songs like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (one of my all-time favorite songs), ‘I am the Walrus’, and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’

The film The Matrix is modeled after the Alice in Wonderland story. It starts with a character who begins to wonder beyond the pre-supposed assumptions that govern his reality. Most of the time, this type of skepticism is a maze with no end. However, persistent wonder leads Neo to discovering a tear in the seam of the fabric of his faux-reality and allows him to “wake up” in his real body and as his true self. This is a common theme in much science fiction and fantasy, to the extent that one can wonder what the real lesson might be. Why is this lesson so recurring? What is it that these authors are really pointing towards? What is it that we can really “wake up” to discover?

Though we may question and then realize that we are not in a dream, why is it that the question as to whether this is really happening can lead to a lucidity in waking life that might somehow be “wiser” or more aware?

When I was a child, I remember that my sister had told me that I could pinch myself as a reality test to catch myself in a dream, especially if I got scared and wanted to wake up. I became really addicted to this idea. I really wanted to catch myself in a dream! One day while playing with blocks, I remember that the pinch did not generate a sensation and I was so thrilled that I made a big announcement to my family that I had finally done it and caught myself in a dream! Unfortunately, I soon realized that I was mistaken.

Yet still my wonder persisted. I felt like there was more going on than my friends, family, and teachers were letting on. I wondered a lot about the nature of time, of memory, of the “pretend” world of my imaginations, and of my own thoughts. But who could I identify with, who would listen? Who would get it?

Somehow something always seeps in through the seams, though. Even songs like ‘Norwegian Wood’ were telling of something deeper than silly little love songs, and I remember thinking of Norwegian Wood as a beautiful woman with deep brown eyes and I thought her name (Norwegian Wood) was so pretty. Then I heard George Harrison’s ‘Within You and Without You.’ The sound of sitar resonated through my arteries and synapses; my heart and mind were turned on.

At age 7, I went on an Indian Princesses outing to go see Alfonso Cuarón‘s A Little Princess. If you have never seen this movie, then it is worth noting that Cuaron’s brilliant cinematography and Patrick Doyle’s amazing soundtrack make it a treasure to behold. This planted the seed for a lifelong love of India. It is so ironic also that I was in a club called “Indian Princesses”, which was a politically incorrect misnomer to celebrate Native American culture when ironically, I would have loved to have studied Indian culture. (I also love Native American culture and have attended lodges (though I never sat in one) and the Lakota Sundance ceremony, so please do not see this as dismissive.)

At  age 14, I stayed up all night talking with one of my internet friends. I am sad that I do not recall his name. His username was “VolcanicTurtle” and he loved the Smashing Pumpkins. He accepted and encouraged me when no one else my age and in my immediate proximity did. He thought my ideas were worthwhile, fun, and interesting. We talked all about our lives and everything we wished we could do, and I created a picture in MS Paint that put us into one of the opening scenes in A Little Princess when they are in India.

alittleprincess

Also during my childhood, Francis Ford Coppola released his rendition of The Secret Garden. The opening scenes of Mary in the sand dust and the colorful parade of the fancy party of her British imperialist parents…those scenes left their mark on my subconscious. And for years I clutched a little stone elephant I had bought from the rock shop by my grandparent’s house. (Finally last year in India I bought my real stone elephant.)

I think that I always related to John Lennon because like him, I grew up feeling very much like an outsider. Though I knew of these worlds of wonder through fable, film, and song, I had no access to a true sense of belonging. My best friend Lauren who I had grown up with never really called me her best friend — another neighborhood girl got that title — and she moved away when I was 10. My other best friend Melissa told me when I was in the 6th grade not to call her my best friend anymore because she was becoming popular and I was the nerdy weirdo with no friends.

My first and only imaginary friend was in kindergarten, and it was Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. She would be with me in gym class, I remember, because I guess even at that age I was bored in gym class. I remember getting on my knees and begging my gym teacher not to make me do some activity that I thought was stupid in the classic Anne Shirley manner. Anne always had a way of being assertive in maintaining her scholarly and spirited nature in the face of mockery and misunderstanding. The experiences that test her courage only make her stronger.

Anne-and-Diana_OP

Anne with an E, Anne Shirley, always strong, my first imaginary friend.

Taunting, teasing, harassment, bullying, and everything in between ensued all through Junior High. (And somehow there were still some real human moments where I still felt happy and optimistic.) My only solace were the days when I would borrow and wear my sister’s clothes to school, which became my armor because my sister was so cool that if she styled my hair for me or if I wore one of her shirts, somehow I got to wear her coolness too. It was the only time that any of my peers actually complimented me.

In 8th grade, I developed a crush on a boy and talked to him online. We had fun and confessed secrets with one another. When he found out my true identity, he said a crueler version of, “I can’t believe you actually think that anyone would ever like you.” I was 14 at the time, and instead of giving up I decided to make myself happy.

Thus, at age 14, I developed this motto “I am all I have, and that’s enough.” I strutted the halls to the tune of whatever music I had playing in my head. People noticed, and I noticed that they noticed. At the last day of 7th grade, I was told by the strictest teacher I knew that I was the top writer in all of her classes. For the rest of 8th grade, I had my place. My first screen name when I was in 5th grade was “talent girl”, then in 8th grade it became “not just your typical girl.” That was how I saw myself. I owned my strangeness. And my 8th grade poetry book is still used as an example. I like to think that I set the benchmark.

And that is only the beginning, really. On my sixteenth birthday, something really horrible happened. It was not fair that this thing happened. But I don’t want you to worry about me here, dear reader, because the point of this whole story is that I survived with optimism. The point is that I did not lose my hope in humanity, the spunk in my spirit, the bounce in my walk, nor the twinkle in my eye.

So when I say, “Not my first rodeo” when someone slanders me with an inappropriate or mean comment, I mean it. And I am no longer afraid to stand up for myself, because I have had enough. And when I say that I still believe in optimism, I mean that I believe in the strength of the human spirit and the transcendence of love after knowing cruelty and being horribly mistreated by my peers and men who I dated for much of my life. I mean that my optimism and my spirit has been tested in all sorts of ways. It has been stretched thin, very thin, but never broken. I’m still here, enthusiastic and as open-heartedly full of love as ever. More than ever, in fact.

My favorite coat was destroyed the night of my unsweet sixteen. It is interesting because it was my first fashionable coat and I really loved it. Everyone at school would notice me when I wore that coat. My mother and I had even put it on layaway just so that I could save up for it. The coat was black suede with white, grey, and black faux-feathers around the color and down the middle. To this day, I make a point to always wear very fashionable coats and jackets. Perhaps this is my way of owning my tragedy and making it my victory.

One time while playing with my sister and her friend Trisha as a child, I remember that we all had to choose boyfriends in the adventure. Upon the imaginary blank canvas of my family room, while I was perched upon the stair that stepped to the entranceway, I pictured John Lennon across the room, riding by on a bicycle and waving to me. The imagination struck me so profoundly with longing that I snuck off to the dining room where it was dark and there was leftover cold pizza. And I just thought a lot about the kind of person I thought John Lennon was. Somehow even at age 7, I sensed that Lennon had been an outsider like me.

My friend Danny Always once told me, “A genuine sense of belonging is the greatest sense of home that I can even imagine.” That line has stuck with me ever since as one of the greatest and truest things I have ever heard.

Lennon was the one who had a staircase down to his little room in Help! He was the one who had no one in his tree. And when he tried to bring the public’s attention to a rather poignant issue of iconoclasm with fandom of pop stars, the public harassed him for narcissism.

lennonbicycle

Lennon on a bicycle.

Thus, for years I grew up idolizing John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship. I watch videos of them when they were in love and almost cry in joyful yearning that someday I could have a relationship like that. And then I saw Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, and thought, “THAT!”  Power couples. Intellectuals who were loving and endearing towards each other like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon De Beauvoir.

As an undergrad I worked as a researcher on my professor Tim Kasser’s book Lucy in the Mind of Lennon. We studied the lyrics to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono since he said that the song was written about her but he didn’t know it at the time because he hadn’t met her yet. Well, actually he had met her. Three times. And she was writing him letters and sending him postcards and books.

What I learned was that Yoko and John’s relationship was NOT ideal. It was idealized. And just before Lennon died, both had discussed the possibility splitting up with their friends and colleagues.

“Still she haunts me phantomwise/Alice moving under skies/Never seen by waking eyes.” – From Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I think that Lennon confused Yoko with Alice in Wonderland from his youth and his lost mother who died when he was 16, just after he had reconnected with her.

So, here we have this hyper-intelligent person who feels totally alone. His father was a merchant marine who abandoned him, he was conceived on drunkenness, and was raised by his aunt Mimi. He finally reconnected with his mother just as the Beatles were forming. She came to one of their first shows. Then she died.

So he meets Yoko and she’s magic. She is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the woman who swoops down from the sky to save him. (Lennon himself has used almost these exact words.)

But I don’t want that. Not anymore. Because I know it won’t last.

So, in Still Life of Woodpecker, Tom Robbins says the true question is this: How can we make love stay?

And that is a great question.

So, when I was listening to Band on the Run the other morning, I thought about how Paul was always the happy one. And I though about how I am named after Linda McCartney. And Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman. What an amazing namesake.

When I was sixteen and taking my second college course (my smart mom fought to get me into college courses at community college to prevent me from dropping out of high school entirely), my Speech instructor, who later became Dean of Students and was someone who I hugely admired, told me, “You’re fun!” after I had mentioned my top five speech topics. No one had ever told me that before. I never knew I was fun! I was just talking about things that I cared about.

While watching the Gilmore Girls this past week (I had watched it when I was in high school too), Loreli says to Rory, “Paul and Linda only spent three days apart in their entire 1969-1998 run of a relationship.” That’s love.

So, while I am not looking for that specifically, I think that the relationship I would want is one that is born out of happiness and having fun. Because the albums that Paul created with Wings and with Linda, namely my favorites Ram and Band on the Run, are amazing albums. They make life feel fun, light, without worries, and full of enthusiastic energy.

And because that’s the type of love that I think really lasts.

Copyright © 2014 Lynda Joy Gerry

One thought on “I’m Still Here: A Survivor’s Guide to Optimism.

  1. I had to keep reading because of Paul McCartney… I have all of his post-Beatles stuff too. I just love that he keeps going… This is a good insight on you too.

    I don’t want to go down that lonely road again…. Check that out if you haven’t. (Lonely Road”)

    Like

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