“silk” – wolf alice (2015)

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This past weekend was atypical for me.  Between work, volunteering, social engagements, and other responsibilities, I very rarely have any “me” time.  Frankly, at my busiest, it becomes something I have to schedule for myself.   I have to work in pockets of time to focus on myself.

During the summer, that’s when I’m the busiest.  Being cooped up indoors during the lengthy Chicago winters makes me want to spend as much time outside as I possibly can.  I fill this in with long walks, coffee dates, and softball games. And when I’m inside on a spectacularly beautiful sunny day, I almost feel guilty about wasting such a golden opportunity.  I do realize it is ok to be inside on days like that and I am working on being ok with that.

Beyond just merely taking every moment I can to enjoy great weather, there’s a deeper reason to my busy schedule.  I’m essentially living on borrowed time.

I’ve talked about this several times before, so no need to go into too much detail again here.  However, the short story is that I spent my first three years in Chicago working for a tyrannical non-profit where I worked constantly and was emotionally abused.  During these years, I would miss family and friend engagements.  I even went a six-month period where I was working so much that I only saw friends on one evening.  I have memories of spending Thanksgiving alone with a case of beer and a bucket of fried chicken.  Christmas would be spent with my Netflix account.  It was a very lonely time.

When I got out of that toxic environment, I had to normalize my life.  For a solid year, I had sparse employment but I had time to spend with loving and supportive people.  As best I could, I invested myself in rebuilding friendships and relationships with people who were mere acquaintances for the longest time.  There were people I knew for years at this point, but I couldn’t really say I knew that at all.

I also had to work on defining myself as a person.  I needed to figure out who I was and what I was about.  I delve into several different hobbies that have since become a part of my identity.  I read a lot.  I do a lot of volunteer work with a few non-profits.  I perform guitar in an ensemble class for a local music school.  I wasn’t used to having all this time to develop myself as a well-rounded person.  I could never have hobbies or interests outside of my non-profit job.  And now that I was free, I wanted to do everything I could.  I went a little overboard, but I’m managing it.

I don’t share that information to fulfill some egotistical reality where I see myself as a victim.  I share that to provide context to what drives and motivates me.  I went several years where I didn’t feel like I had any control of my life.  My job held the steering wheel and I was locked in the car.  In the last few years, I had to work really hard to put myself back together.

I’m now four years removed from that horrific place and I’m very happy with my life.  I have good friends, interesting hobbies, and fulfilling community service opportunities.  I can do those things because I have the time to do them.  I’m also in a decently paying job with a respectable work/life balance, so now I have the money to do what I want.  I didn’t have these things together before.

So, what about this past weekend?  The whole weekend, I had nothing to do.  Absolutely nothing.  No errands or responsibilities.  Two and a half days to do whatever I wanted.  I know a lot of the things I do are things I want to do.  I get that.  But, those get scheduled in my calendar with reminders and things like that.  This past weekend, I had nothing.  It has been a long time since I have had that kind of gift.  Plus, the rainy weather also helped in keeping me unattached.

I spent the whole weekend doing what I wanted to do.  I went to the gym, drink tea, read books, and watched TV.  Even though I continued by workout routine, I still felt considerably more inactive than I am usually am.

I did a lot of thinking during this time.  I thought about my life a few years ago.  On a Saturday five years ago, I remembered I was negotiating with my boss to allow me to go to an eye exam because I desperately needed glasses.  In exchange, I had to give her a few extra hours in the evening every day the whole next week.  Nevermind that I was already working 70 hours a week already.  But, I had to give her an additional 10-15 just to go to get an eye exam and buy glasses because it was now getting difficult for me to see.  Now, I was sipping chamomile and gazing out the window.

My experience at this job is not something I let define me.  However, I recognize it was a big part of my life for a long time.  And, more importantly, I knew I had a long road ahead to build myself into the person I wanted to be the moment I got out.  I couldn’t be lazy (which I couldn’t do even if I tried) if I was going to do this.  And that included doing things that were going to be healthy for me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The important thing was get back to a place where I could enjoy life and everything it should offer and not letting opportunities go by.

I caught up on a few movies over the weekend.  One I was eager to rewatch was Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his brilliant 1996 classic TrainspottingTrainspotting is one of my favorite films.  Despite the plot holes strewn throughout and the film changing pace to becoming a heist film, it is a beautiful and tragic slice of life piece; a microcosm of 90s culture and the fall-out of 1980s excess.  When the sequel was announced, I was cautiously optimistic.  I wanted to see the main characters return and how their lives had changed.  More importantly, I wanted to see how they handled the ghosts of their drug-addled pasts.  When I caught in early screening back in February, I thoroughly loved it.

Released earlier this year T2 Trainspotting is set 20 years after the original film.  The four principal characters are reunited with some lingering bad blood and a proclivity for a relapse into heroin.  Despite the onslaught of reboots, rehashes, and remakes that have dominated popular culture in recent years, T2 Trainspotting surpassed my personal expectations and didn’t feel like an unnecessary sequel.  The sequel embodies Boyle’s current directing style.  Despite the distinct presentation differences, the films still connect together nicely.  Although T2 Trainspotting is about 10-15 minutes too long, it is a wonderful sequel with its own style.

Revisiting the film allowed me to concentrate more on the subtext of the film: change.  Change is huge part of this movie.  We find that while a lot of things are different about the four mates, nothing has really changed.  They’re addicts.  They have a severe drive to feed that addiction.  Twenty years ago, it was heroin.  Now, peace of mind comes in the form of other drugs, suicidal thoughts, journal writing, committing felonies, or even exercise.

Ewan McGregor’s mantra in the film is “You’re an addict.  So, be addicted.  Just be addicted to something else.”  And the more I think about that, the more truth I see in it.  Perhaps, I thought, I’m an addict.  Makes sense to me.  I read a lot and do a lot of stuff in my spare time.  Both more than many of my friends.  I get asked how I’m able to read or volunteer so much.  I say it is because of time management skills.  And that is true.  But, it also because I’m addicted to it.

That was a huge revelation to realize.  I’m sure most people would tell me that reading too many books and filling my life with too many activities is not an addiction especially when you compare it to drug and alcohol abuse.  But, I’m not sure about that.  I do these things because they make me happy and I enjoy them.  Sure, I have moments where I wish I had more free time and room to breathe.  But my life is so much better than it was before I could do those things.

Though, having an entire weekend to myself gave me some things to think about.  I thought about how nice this was and that it is ok to slow down sometimes.  And while I’ve been really good regarding self-care and doing things like exercising and engaging with friends and having mentally stimulating hobbies, maybe there is more I can do for myself.  I’m getting better at not always needing something to do.  I know where that comes from.  It comes from a need to feel like I am living my life on my own terms as opposed to someone else dictating how I live my own life.  And I’m in a good place.  Perhaps it is time to take it down a notch and relax.

Winters are my slower times anyway.  However, I’m going to take this winter to relax and not schedule and do so many things.  I think I will benefit taking some time to be on my own, in my apartment, and alone with my own thoughts.  It will be an exercise for me to learn to live more in the moment, but I’m going to do my best.   In the last few years, I wouldn’t have done well with a do-nothing weekend.  I think I’m at a point where I’m ok with that.

Reading over this before publishing, I know it all sounds so silly.  If it does to me, I’m sure it does to other people.  It is difficult to live in the moment when you are so compelled to fill your life with constant engagements and responsibilities.  The stress that comes with thinking I need to be busy with something because I cannot be alone with myself is hard.  For many, that simple cup of tea with a book or a bad TV show is par for the course.  For people like me, it represents me wasting my life.  I struggled and worked hard to get to a point where I could live the way I wanted.  Before, I couldn’t allow myself to waste time on such quiet moments.  Now, I’m starved for them.  I need more of those moments in my life.  And to get to that point, I have to alter behaviors and expectations for myself.  I must teach myself that it is ok to slow down. And that isn’t easy to do.

The Trainspotting films really drive home the consequences of addiction.  Also, they both have killer soundtracks which reinforce those points.  The first film has a superior soundtrack, but the sequel has many gems as well.

One track in the sequel’s soundtrack that sticks out to me is “Silk” from Wolf Alice.  The track appeared on the band’s 2015 debut album My Love Is Cool and was featured prominently in the film’s trailers despite not being a single.  The song starts off a little slow, but gains some energy and life when the shoegaze element gets electrified with hard hitting indie rock progression.  There’s a poppy energy buried in there.  However, there is also a hard-hitting narrative about loneliness and coming to terms with one’s own self and role in relationships.  It is a brilliant track and a signature piece on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

It is ok to work on yourself.  A lot of people become complacent as they get older.  They get stuck in this mindset that who they are will always be who they are.  They’re right for the most part.  People don’t really change.  You see that in the Trainspotting films.  However, you can still make an effort to channel certain aspects of yourself and direct in healthier ways.  And everyone struggles to do that.  We’re all working towards our own happiness.  For some, it just takes a little longer.