Suspended in Amber

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One of the first things I see when I descend from my house in the dark morning are the lights of the city spread out below. Some days the lights are crystal clear. I can pick out individual cars and the traffic lights blink through their predictable rounds. Other days, the lights are shrouded in thick fog and I see nothing but the ghosts of houses along my street, caught in the headlights as I roll quietly past. This morning, there was a light, drizzly fog. The kind that spontaneously forms tiny water droplets on your skin. The lights had turned soft and indistinguishable in the dark. The fog gave them a dreary look that perfectly matched my mood.

My old friend depression has been hanging about lately. Not the “I just want to curl up in a ball” variety, but more of a “sigh, I can’t put my finger on the problem” variety.

When I go to work, I feel pretty ambivalent. It isn’t that I hate my job, or don’t understand that I must work, or that I’m lazy, it’s just that I’m not happy with it either. It’s something I must do as opposed to something I want to do. The resulting ambivalence catches me in an awkward place. I find myself thinking – a little too realistically for my own good – how it would feel to drive past my freeway exit, climb over the mountains, and join the coastal road for a long trip that would last forever.

Of course, I only envision myself in a single moment, somewhere on the highway, going no place in particular. I conveniently forget all the accoutrement of such a trip. Buying gas, eating lunch, finding places to sleep, missing my family, deciding which way to go next. In my mind, those things no longer exist. The only thing I can imagine is being on the road at a single moment that lasts forever, frozen in time, but infinitely mobile. I’m not going anywhere other than where I want to be – which just happens to be an empty stretch of highway that unwinds in front of me.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering where these feelings come from. I work at a good company that treats its employees exceptionally well. I’m paid a handsome salary and I don’t feel overworked. Sure, each day holds its petty annoyances, but there really are surprisingly few. Yet, I don’t want to be here. In fact, I’m fairly confident I don’t really want to be anywhere, except in that car on the endless coastal highway.

While I can’t say for sure, I do have a theory about why I feel the way I do.

I’ve gone to a job nearly every day for 35 years. I like to think I did a good job. I even liked some of them in the usual sense. I got up and looked forward to going in or found interests or challenges in that world. But the notion that I was working because I had to, rather than because I chose too, always gnawed at me. I’d be the first to admit this is a selfish point of view. I mean, who am I to bitch about going to a job with good pay and benefits? After all, most of the people in the world would be happy with a job that provided a little rice for their distended bellies. I have the luxury of bitching that the less fortunate never get.

But jobs, and indeed the 35 years doing them, aren’t the whole story. I began carrying hefty responsibilities at an early age and none of them went away when I added the daily routine of work to the mix. I’ve spent nearly every minute of every day carrying them. Many were self-assumed and ones that I gladly bore – being married for instance. But most of them were handed to me without invitation – for example, battling depression or being laid off or mowing the lawn. They just appeared on my doorstep and I accepted them without thinking. They were simply chores that needed to be done. Small events that I had to weather to get to the next one.

So in the end, I’ve developed an automatic aversion to anything that requires me to do something other than of my own making. I dislike work not because it’s a painful experience, but because it’s a responsibility. I’m at a point in my life where I long to do things of my own device. Things that are never a responsibility, but that I only do for the simple reason that I want to.

Filtered through the gauze of mild depression, I find it difficult to listen to my rational brain explain that work and responsibilities are an integral part of the human condition, something all humans share regardless of their station or wealth. Instead, it’s the flitty, irrational bit of my mind that talks a little louder and urges me to keep on going when I reach my freeway exit. As the rational part of me calmly explains the facts of life and the irrational part of me urges me to do things that ignore the facts of life, I find myself stunned by the ongoing distraction. Rather than hearing something positive, that distraction is what keeps me keeping on.

So when I feel the pull of the open road and my rational self wins again, I find myself suspended in a psychological amber. I take the exit. I ride the elevator. I do the things that are required of me. But I always reserve a little part of my brain to take the occasional virtual trip past the exit, over the mountain, and along an endless coastal road that never ends.

8 thoughts on “Suspended in Amber

  1. Aah, wise one…you touch deeply. It’s been said that drink is the curse of the working class, but imagination is the enemy of any of us tied into the “American Dream”. I say that, because any divergance from the Career Path is seen as mildly anarchist (usually described by management as a “bad attitude”). Drink is but one of many strategies to cope.

    I’m going to have to jump thru many hoops to do so, but with any luck by spring I’ll have something healthier than substance use to recharge my batteries with…my ex, who passed on a year and a half ago willed me her motorcycle. I admit I love my beer, but I gladly forego a pint if I can just feel that wind, and see where the front wheel takes me; a pleasure I haven’t enjoyed in six years…

    I do find pleasure in a job well done; it’s hard to do so when one is not Devoted to the Company, and given the fact the Company is not invested in the Employee in our lovely times, I find no moral problems taking true pleasure beyond the workplace. For those with imagination, finding that horizon is not a luxury…it is a necessary thing for sanity. Your blues are simply a natural reaction to stagnation put upon you.

    As always, from yet another Poobah Accolyte…

    *m

  2. I’ve been down lately too. My parents came to visit and I ended up ranting at them. I hate it when I go into angry lecture mode around people I like and love. Anyway, let us know if there’s anything you think your bloggy-pals can do to cheer you up!

    Road trips, to me, are deeply melancholy. But maybe it’ll get it out of your system.

  3. Oh Great Poobah,

    All of us have alot to be depressed about right now. Our Idiot Commander in Chief is the one that makes me want to crawl into a hole until its over. But gosh don’t stop telling the truth about him… we need to face up to it that we live along side a whole lotta people who voted for him, and probably would again…

    J

  4. I think you just described just about 95% of humans. I’ve read in the past about 1% of people really get to do what they want and what makes them happy. Like movie stars…celebrity types…you know…the ones who have alot of money for anything…but really aren’t happy. Wouldn’t we love to be them! so the other 4% must be brain dead.

  5. Yep, that’s me, too. Hate my job, hate where I live, want to go west out of town, waaay out of town. Pack the bare essentials and git.

    Cant, though. Wife, kids, domestic stuff. Someday, I tell myself, someday the kids’ll be grown, I’ll be more buddha-like (belly-wise), and then I’ll go.

  6. Mary,
    Wear a hat with a flower in it so I know it’s you.

    Cap’n,
    Aye, t’would be a right an fine thing ta sail away o’er beyond tha mountains. I hear it’s mighty pretty there.

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