A Past Life

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Last night, as the first snowflakes began to glitter down from the heavens and the howling, frigid winds blew, unwavering, through the streets of White Plains, I boarded a bus for home, tired from the day even as the night was still young. As the bus lumbered on through the icy blizzard, I marveled in the winter wonderland outside—the Christmas lights glowing empathetically from the cottages and the townhomes, the last workers driving carefully home to their immaculate families awaiting their return—all seemed still, simple, and calm. When I finally got home I turned the key and entered my tiny but cozy apartment which seemed to embrace me in consolation of the lengthy and bewildering day of work and life and love. I switched on my desk lamp and the Christmas lights I hung up last week and my homestead came to life. Sitting at my desk to collect my thoughts, I knew there were still hours of work to get done: monthly reports to write up, articles to draft, music to practice, books to read, and notes to study.

If you had asked me what my perfect life would look like a few years ago or even a few months ago, I’m not sure what I would have described. Quite possibly I would have mused about some idealized reality where I was spending my days in class, my nights gigging or listening to concerts and my weekends having dinner at nice restaurants or jazz clubs. I would have mentioned the great TV shows I would watch, the fun times I would have with friends, or maybe even the relaxing vacations I would take. I would talk about my caring and loving boyfriend (a complete fantasy of course) and the room I would own, decorated faultlessly, as though Martha Stewart herself had planned out every inch of it.

I’m sure at some point this was truly what I wanted—the ideal life. Even as I entered college a couple years ago, I think I would have talked about the same sort of rose-tinted, unblemished life. However, in the last year, emotional pain overtook most aspects of my life and these dreams of utopian grandeur faded from my mind. It was unexpected, not because it has not been present before, but because these feelings slowly and subtly took up more and more time and energy until, in a matter of months, a dark cloud hung over the entirety of my life. The problem with this type of depression, anxiety, and compulsion is that the road into it is easy, but the road out is tough, grueling, and full of even more pain than simply remaining in the darkness. There were days when I wondered if I would ever find the break in the trees, or whether I would keep wandering in the forest of despair for a lifetime.

Young adulthood is surely a tough time in life for all who experience it. It is the crossing of a bridge from the land of innocence and childhood joyousness into the complex world of adult responsibility, work, and above all, duty. Now that I have found the light, if for a brief and ephemeral moment, I can see that my despair came from the unrest of this drastic change in my life. It is hard to be told that you are on your own, that you decide what actions you take to create your life, that you have a great deal of responsibility that is yours and yours alone.

But now that I have graduated from both the childhood naivety and the anguish of the transition period, I can feel that I am beginning to let go of that past life. I no longer need that comforts of dependence any longer. With this new life there is a great deal of work to be done both on myself and for school and career as well—chores must be done, personal and mental hygiene must be kept up, and all the studying and work must be done each and every day. I should want to run in fear; in fact, for a while I did want to run on fear.

But worry, doubt, and fear are not the answer, especially in the real world. Now an adult, I know that things must be done without negotiation and I have an immense sense of duty in my work and responsibilities. Certainly it is a delicate and precarious balance between personal life, work, and sleep, but that balance must be kept up, regardless of circumstance.

With the leaving behind of my past life I accept responsibility for my actions, my thoughts, and my obligations. There is still a plethora of joy to be found in my life, but now that joy comes along with meaning, purpose, and a sense of having worked to earn it. Responsibility creates a more meaningful sense of joy.

As I looked out the bus windows last night, I knew that I could finally let go of my past life and of those empty dreams. That the work I am doing now is vital and important. That my life is not how I dreamed it years ago, but it is meaningful because in its imperfections I can find work to be done and in its triumphs and beauties I can know that my hard work has paid off. In the snowy darkness, I knew that I had found meaning and joy in the troubles I had been through and that my past life did not burden me anymore. And maybe that freedom to build my own life is the most beautiful piece of it all.

Here’s to leaving behind the past and creating the present…

– Ethan Brown Jones

Perception

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My lamp shreds the dim, morning darkness agonizingly. The room is the same way I left it only hours ago, diving into the warm blankets and the unconscious equally as ferociously. Yesterday is done, soon to be completely forgotten. The work piled and undone, which felt so pressing previously, now feels motivating and exciting. I can hardly contain the passion I feel, rising promptly from bed, rested, even on so few hours of sleep. The office glistens in the crisp wash of lamp light. Today will be a good one, I feel.

My day has only just begun and already I feel powerful, motivated, and ready for what is to come. So much like the others is this morning, but it feels unique somehow. In hindsight, the events that tortured me so over the last weeks seem miniscule, so much less implacable than I once felt they were. The onerous happenings seem to fade away, leaving in their place a sense of renewed hope for the future.

Not so much was it about the instances themselves but the arbitrary set of emotions assigned to them each day. The places I went, the people I met, and even that actions I took were, and are, shaped by the unsupported, often undecided views I took on them momentarily.

Perception holds such an incredible place in our lives as human beings. For, while other creatures observe their world on a subconscious level, we are able to not only observe, but also cogitate on our perceptions and explore them in order to glean comprehension.

Only a week ago, I would have told you that only two basic categories of comprehension exist in this world. I would have described to you the reality as I believed it then— we either observe and perceive the world in order to understand it or we are passive to all objects around us by concerted effort to shelter ourselves from reality. But what I now hold true is that our comprehension is also highly dependent upon the specific way in which we perceive every moment, emotionally, physically, and cognitively. I too used to believe that one simply viewed the world as it was, that I could easily perceive the difference between the reality in my head and the reality exterior to my mind. My view of this has changed as well, even in this short time period. Our internal ideas, preconceived notions, and a lack of true objective perception often lead to the horrible phenomenon of miscomprehension and misperception, I now understand.

After a bad week, Friday felt the worst of all, despite the inherent reprieve that is naturally associated with the end of the week. And in hindsight I realize that Friday was in fact the end of my sorrows though I didn’t feel so at the time. My deep resentment for all that had happened that week had poisoned my perception of all experiences and actions for the entire rest of the week. My thoughts had been negative towards all around me and I was stuck because of it. But I didn’t exert any effort to change this fact; I felt so comfortable in just allowing my negativity to stew and eventually boil over, thinking that my attitude towards the world was set in stone, unchangeable by mine or anyone else’s hand. But the weekend brought with it the time to journal, converse, and reflect on the week as it had been. And what I realized was that the week had gone exactly as my poor attitude had predicted going in. One misfortune on Monday morning had soured the rest of the week, promoting numerous conflicts, anger, and eventually, unproductive self-pity and depression. And it was my fault. No, the world had not sent me a week full of problems; my own mind had created all of that. The way I dealt with tiny daily issues had sent me into a downward spiral from which I did not recover quickly. Instead of seeing the value in all of my experiences or noticing the smallest beauties of every moment, I had fallen prey to the easier, yet more detrimental cycle of negative energy, unproductivity, aggression, and irrationalism.

I now view positivity as a personal choice, rather than a predestined factor. As I have chosen over the last week to think positively in the face of adversity, I have been much happier and felt less stressed too. Yes, the inconveniences, the conflicts, and the stressors still exist. But I have been dealing with them in a very different manner. Even when I find it difficult to remain positive, I try to utilize the passionate emotions as motivation to keep growing, keep working hard, and keep moving forward.

The beauty of perception is that it is unique, manageable, and easily controlled— this is what I try to remember each and every day.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

The Musical Love Affair

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Lights blare; the crowd hushes to silence; only my footsteps crack harshly in the deafening emptiness. Thousands of beady eyes focus intently on each and every square inch of my body. Somewhere out in the dark theatre, a cough echoes, seeming inexcusable and out-of-place. I am alone on the stage, the only center for the room’s attention. I raise my eyes to the loge and a roar explodes from the crowd. My arms are raised above me head as I smile lovingly at the audience. Sitting on the deep-black leather piano bench, the room hushes in an uncomfortable, anticipative silence. My fingers delicately rest on the keys, my eyes scanning the magnificent nine feet of strings constituting the Steinway, stretched out before me. Taking a deep breathe in through my nose, I begin to play, the sound filling the monstrous theatre, my mind becoming intoxicated with sonorous music. I feel comfortable in the song for a while; then it changes; I am no longer at home where I am; the music transitions to a place very far from where I began. Emotion drives expression onward into the cavernous abyss. I am focused intently on the music; yet when one is accustomed to playing music, one knows that sounds bring back memories wrapped in the silken gauze of emotions, rushing out through musical expression. The end approaches, I feel. A sense of longing for it to never end engulfs me and I am reminded of so many other nights just like this one, equally as perfect. And then the song is over. I’m sure the crowd is clapping; their hands are moving; but the roar of music in my head deafens me to the sounds of the outside world.

A group of musicians comes out on stage with me and I’m sure that I make some gracious speech to the audience, however subconscious my words seem to be. The next song is counted off; I play once more. But the music has no real beginning or end, only ephemeral constancy. The heavy black Steinway is resplendent in the purple hue of the stage lights and I am suddenly unaware of all tangible things in this world. The music is all. In the air surrounding the other musicians and me, a creative energy flows, water-like, torrential, and imperious.

Just as soon as it began, the concert ends. I bow and leave the stage, waving royally as I exit. Alone in my dressing room, the energy fades, the lights burn out, the world comes rushing back and the dressing room feels cold and isolated. Thoughts are turned to reality: I should get some more gas; I think I’m out of lettuce; I should really head to the office and finish up some work. The stage is gone. The concert fades away.

I am alone on the stage. Dim radiance glows from the work lights throughout the theatre. The air lies dormant, thick around me. I am nothing; I am nobody; I have no talent; I have no worth; it is all a lie, a repugnant untruth; my life, my dreams, and my reality are all inchoate, prone, strewn across the wretchedness of the stage; doubt turns to despair which in turn turns to self-loathing. I try to play, but the feeling is gone, the emotions- all snuffed out. In the dim glow, the piano seems decrepit, deterrent, disdainful even. Tears stream down my cheeks onto the keys that once passionately embraced my fingertips.

But the clouds lift; the lights return.

The theatre is quiet but alive. Breathing deeply, I step gingerly onto the stage I know so well. And the roar begins again. Beloved once more, I am weightless, significant, and unaware of the despair that lies just beneath the surface, at least for a little while.

The crowd hushes once more and I scan those nine feet of strings. A musical love affair begins anew.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

The Road to Recovery: Late Once Again

Once again, I was late. As with many times before this one, I had cut it way too close, not left on time, and tried to cram way too much into a single day. I hustled out to my car, spilling coffee on myself in the process. My bags, my papers, and I flew into the car splaying ourselves across the seats. The engine roared to life as I cranked the key hard in the ignition and I raced furiously out of the driveway to my meeting. I turned on my podcasts in an attempt to calm myself with NPR but it was almost futile with how stressed I was. Swerving around corners, I drove with one hand, putting on makeup, eating a snack, and scratching down a quick note with the other one. I saw the car ahead ambling along at a less-than-satisfactory pace and roared past it in a hurried fury. Each second that ticked by was one more second of lateness.

Was it just my imagination or did every car in my way secretly wish for me to be horribly and utterly late? Each driver ahead of me went slower than the last; each one drove a little worse. I fretted and yelled obscenities inside the charged comfort of my car.

Finally making it to my parking space, I sped in and frantically gathered myself and my belongings. I slammed the door, locked up with shaking hands, and ran. Rushing into the meeting, I excused myself for the millionth time, citing the atrocious traffic as the cause of my tardiness on this occasion. It was on this day that I realized it wasn’t working anymore; something had to change drastically in my life.

And so I set to work on a plan of how to change my life for the better. My realizations scared me; I realized that because of my constant procrastination, I was constantly putting things off until the last minute, and thus, constantly being late. All of this led to a lack of stability and control in my life and so I set out to change it all.

I researched for months on end and tried a multitude of things until one night, tonight in fact, I decided that my new life was ready to begin. Tomorrow, all my plans will come to fruition and I’ll be organized and on time, or at least that’s the plan. After all, what is life if not a constant work in progress?

Every day, I work towards my goal: that one day I will be on time to everything that happens in my life. Every day too, I research more and more, learning each and every moment how to make my life better and continue to improve the problem areas. I get more inspired as well as more discouraged when I realize how much more work I still have to do. But each day, each hour, each minute is a new one, and the next one is an unprecedented opportunity to go forth and work even harder. I must have faith, and I do, that I can accomplish my goals and live a more fruitful and successful life, and thus, a more happy and fulfilling life.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

Dead, Hopefully

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It was late January and as I drove my Honda along the long, dark highway, all I could think about was the all-encompassing death I was heading towards faster and faster every day. My career was in the toilet, my love-life was on its way to its death, my hope was dead, and worst of all, my ambitions were dead-and-gone. Death had swallowed my life whole, and now it was simply spitting out the bones one by one, leading me into the dark alleyways of despair. I breathed- in…out…in…out- the simple task of breathing seeming somehow more difficult than living another day on this earth.

Lost, desperate, lonely, and hopeless, I drove on through the night, a lone pair of headlights illuminating the suffocating darkness.

What was it that they used to say back in Catholic school?

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

What a load of bullshit. When God closes a door, he fucking slams it as hard as he can in your fucking face.

Career: unemployed; spouse: none, twice divorced; kids: none; life: DEAD. The only thing I had to show for twenty-seven long fucking years of life was my old shitty-ass Civic, Marge, as I called her. Marge was my one true companion; she seemed to love me no matter what.

I was driving on the highway towards… well… towards the end, wherever that was. I was finding my new life at the other end of a long, winding highway- how fucking euphemistically cliché. Bitter, that’s how Aunt Lois used to describe me, bitter, resentful, nasty, and her favorite one, fucked-up. I was as far removed from the fucking bitch as I could get; I moved across the country just to finally evade her grasp. Lois was a poised, elegant woman when she wanted to be, but Lois didn’t often want that.

Marge purred along as my mind wandered aimlessly through the dark.

Back in Illinois, I had always believed that it would work out, that I would make it big and never come back to this God-forsaken hellhole. My whole life had been like that, always running away from something. First it was my family, primarily Aunt Lois, and then it was my first marriage, and now, it was my entire God-damned life. Running…

Cities appeared and then flashed by, my destination was unknown, but I was sure that none of this was it. I was ready for death now, nothing could stop me. Happiness had left me. You know what they say; when life gives you lemons- fucking give up. Well, life gave me a whole fucking lemon grove, and guess what, I fucking gave up.

I hated Lois for who she had become, a crotchety, selfish, old cunt who did nothing but bitch all day long. Thank God her poor husband Lester had died so at least he was in a better place now- hopefully a very quiet, peaceful one. I had spent enough years of my life with Lois to realize that death was better than having to put up with that old bat.

I was close now, the road was about to end, one more path ending abruptly in death. Mine was just one life, would it really matter? I longed for death, for only in death was the pain gone, were the voices silenced, was the anguish extinguished.

But death was too fair, suffering was much more realistic. And so I suffered. And I still suffer, and I’m alive. I guess that’s good, being alive. I wouldn’t know if death is any better since I’ve never reached it.

I guess it’s safe to say that the road never ended that night- who knows when it will end. Life’s a bitch as they say, and you know what, so am I. I’m a fucking bitch, and that’s ok, there are lots of us out there.

I hope death is a little less unfortunate, that’s what I fucking hope. Oh well…

Love, Ethan Brown Jones