Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Blues

No one really cares if you're miserable, so you might as well be happy. ~ Cynthia Nelms

Louis Armstong. Johnny Lee Hooker. Bessie Smith. Etta James. Duke Ellington. Bo Diddley. Howlin' Wolf. B.B. King. Familiar names, to most of us, as blues musicians who have defined what people consider to be the crème de la crème of the genre. Their music continues to appear on soundtracks to popular movies, is played on current radio stations and has influenced scores of other artists. What about Big Bill Boonzey, Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie and Sippie Wallace? They're not as well known as their more contemporary successors, but their music, style, verve and creativity in blending 19th century gospel and spirituals, with early swing music, forever changed the course of musical history. From the Rolling Stones to Coldplay, the Blues have influenced countless musicians. The Blues has long been my favorite genre...I can easily get lost in the traditional 'four line' repeat. The pace and rhythm draw me back whenever I'm feeling scattered. It's been my mainstay, my touchstone and my musical 'home' during every phase of my life. Even as a 21 year old bride, I had a blues/jazz band, rather than the more popular DJ's, or 80's "wedding singer" style of music, entertain at my big day. 

The Blues has transcended racial, cultural and national barriers. It's powerful enough to speak to people in every country, of every ethnicity and socio-economic class. It's a passionate draw for both men and women, young and old. The Blues is there for the 'taking'...and can be relevant for nearly everyone, everywhere. And yet, the Blues began, in its inception, by conveying sadness, sorrow, depression, loss, heartache and dismay in a creative, culturally appropriate manner. The Blues spoke of injustice, devastation, protest and worry. For those who had no 'voice' with which to express their angst, the music gave them a powerful tool in doing so. It allowed others, who couldn't express what they were feeling, a way to 'feel' along with the music. Depression, sadness and anxiety could be 'listened to'...and allow those experiencing those emotions an empathic vehicle. The success, and transcendence, of the Blues shows me how important it is for us to have outlets during times of trouble.

I have to admit that the non-musical form of the blues has hit me fairly hard over the past few months. I was scared beyond belief during my cancer diagnosis, testing and surgery. I was anxious about my recovery and convalescence. I was frustrated and aggrieved by my physical setbacks. Now? Despite being incredible thankful and appreciative that I'm as well as is possible, I still have moments, lapses and periods of discouragement. More than  half of all cancer patients will experience depression *after* their treatment ends. Why? When one is in the midst of treatment, there is a plan of action. It's terrifying. It's painful. But, it's an agenda for getting well. When treatment ends, and the cancer patient is left with a battered, changed and ravaged body, it's easy to see why loss often hits after cancer is over. Factor in fear of insurmountable medical bills, terror that the cancer will return, loss of jobs and income, overwhelming post surgery rehabilitation and a shattered sense of self worth, and all the earmarks for seriously bruised spirits are in place. 

One of the things I keep reminding myself is that I have a new definition for 'normal'. What ordinary, everyday and fit meant to me 4 months ago are completely different than what they mean for me now. It's not easy to readjust one's expectations. Clothes that were flattering in October no longer work for my new body. Emotions that were easily held in check are now more difficult. My usual ability of looking at myself in a mirror has been altered forever. I don't like my reflection most of the time. I don't like the lumpy, shattered, unalluring woman who gazes back at me. I don't know how to dress, what to do, what to say or what to think most of the time. I am well aware that my bikini days are over. It's disturbing in body, of course, but also in mind and spirit. What do I do with this new self, one that barely resembles the woman from last November?  How do I change the way I feel, the way I look, the way I cope and the way I move forward?

I do have the blues right now. But, the blues don't define me. I don't allow them to take over my life, my spirit or my hope for the future. I have lots of new things to learn. I have new skills to master...many of which were simple for me a few months ago. I have to regain the woman I once was, temper her with what I've experienced and discover improved ways to move forward. A case of the blues will not ruin the second chance I've been given. They do teach me how much I've lost. They also remind me about what I've overcome. I can take my feelings and examine them logically. It isn't an easy process. I realize how tied up in being pretty, being physically strong and being vibrant I once was. I see how much my self-worth was tied up in these feelings.  

I'm not out of the blues yet, and they hit me unexpectedly at times. I do have an immeasurable sense of appreciation for the gifts I have been given. My blues aren't completely pitch black and I do see a great deal of light. I am thankful that I can create shades of indigo, cobalt and turquoise. As Bessy Smith sang, "It's a long old road, but I know I'm gonna find the end." 


mwasser said...

Ellen, you are more than entitled to having your bouts of the blues... but you carry on and that is what counts!

Rachel said...

An interesting feature of good friends who have never met, is that I have no image of you as "the body you inhabit". The "you" I know has no physical image, but rather is composed of your thoughts, ideas, emotions, family, humor, creativity, etc. Dare I say, the "Real" you, rather than the physical representation you see in a mirror?

I certainly understand the shock of seeing yourself in a mirror, because we all DO have images of ourselves, created from mirrors and photos and what we can see, and that image has changed for you.

What I wish, is that you could see you as I do -- without the body (for good or bad). Ultimately, that should be everyone's goal: to be able to see our true selves as others see it, and who better than on-line friends who have no real physical sense of you to help show it to you!

with love,