I don’t want to think about the numbers — statistics, projections, graphs, charts, models. It’s easy for my mind to get lost in a numerical rabbit hole in a ceaseless seeking of the latest data. I go through spurts of refreshing news pages, watching livestreams from government officials, waiting for the daily updates of numbers on my state’s dashboard. It’s as if my mind finds it difficult to determine the difference between being well-informed and allowing myself to become a sponge for all of the information I can find. Sometimes I have more than I can hold, more than I can sit with, more than I can fathom.
I try to look away, but then I’m caught in the whirling vortex of social media, where I’m bombarded by conspiracy theories, the thoughts and opinions of acquaintances I would have been much happier not reading, and videos from woefully out-of-touch celebrities.
Social media often makes me feel even more isolated, less connected. I deactivate my accounts, delete the apps, and go dark for a while. I seek a more potent distraction from the world outside. Maybe I pick up the pen. Maybe it’s my headphones or the remote. Maybe it’s a book. Maybe I dive back into The Sims 4. However I choose to do it, investing my time and energy in a world or experience outside of my own can act as a mental reset. It feels good to get lost inside a narrative I’m in control of rather than numbers and reactions I’m powerless over. I’m reminded of these lines from “Movies” by Weyes Blood, a song from Titanic Rising about the power of stories and escapism:
I know the meaning
I know the story
I know the glory
I love movies.
When I come back down to reality, it’s important to remember that while I may feel powerless, there are parts of my personal narrative that I can control. We all have stories to share — what will they be?
Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled in my closet for my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day…
I looked over at my mother from the front passenger seat of our Volvo station wagon and noticed the corners of her mouth as they flicked upward in a smile. I giggled.
“Cleanest dirty shirt…?!” I repeated, marveling at Kris Kristofferson’s nonsensical lyric. I was nine or ten years old and still too innocent to have latched onto the line about beer for breakfast. Mom and I were out running errands in our still new-ish family car, which she and my father had bought after our ancient blue Ford Country Squire had finally quit running. The new car had come equipped with air conditioning and a cassette deck, both of which felt luxurious at the time.
When my parents were both in the car, they listened to Victory At Sea or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Sometimes they would listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary or Roger Whitaker, but Johnny Cash was always reserved for when my mother had the car to herself. Years later, she confided that my father hated country music, snobbishly associating it with “white trash” and “redneck” types. Despite the thinly-veiled insult — my mother’s ancestral line includes many Florida farmers and cattle ranchers — she never abandoned her love affair with the genre. And the singer I remember her loving the most was always Johnny Cash.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cash, too. I have my own memories associated with The Man In Black, but the most vivid one is the melancholy smile that spread across my mother’s face any time she heard “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”
On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
’Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalks
Sunday morning coming down
My mother passed down to me the twin tendencies to love without reservation and to grieve in silence, too. And this song remains one of the ways I hold space for our powerful love and sorrow without ever having to say a word.