I was taking Anna to school this morning and I put my iPod on shuffle for the drive there. After doing my normal skipping of the first 3 songs that my iPod randomly chooses, I was pleased as punch when one of my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter album tracks – “Middle Ground.” It’s long been a favorite, probably since the first time I heard it in 1993. Sadly, I can’t find anywhere on the internet where it’s been uploaded in full – not even a stupid fan video on YouTube. So you’ll have to settle for a sample here. Amazingly, it’s a pretty good sample and represents the entire song well.
It was one of those songs that, when I listened to it back in the day, I always felt described my life except the gender was wrong. Although I certainly was not female, definitely not “thirty-three this time around” and, in hindsight, actually wasn’t a good representation of life at that time, it was during those days of not-always-desired solitude that the lyrics hit me right under the breastbone. The chorus was the one that always got me – “Oh, middle ground/A place between up and down/She could be safe and sound/Oh, to know middle ground.” To know middle ground indeed. This sentiment was mirrored in one of the final verses – “And these days run thick or thin/It never rains, or else it’s pouring.” and “Love’s a puzzle in her mind/The pieces match, but don’t quite fit.” Life was a lot more, shall we say, dramatic back then? Or perhaps it was just leftover teenage angst? Who the hell knows. In any event, it was overblown and a lot of it had to do with a poor self-image and listening to negative self-talk that had been going for a good 10 years by that point. I don’t have tons of pictures of myself from that time period, but in the ones I do have, I can see it in my face. Even when I’m smiling and happy, it’s still there, but I’m REALLY good at seeing it. Looking back on that time in my life, I am reminded of a quote from J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey – “I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.”
I excelled at that type of running back then. The funny part is that, at first, Chapin’s music really exacerbated that. That wasn’t so good, but I think I took solace in the fact that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way – even if it was just a fictional character in a song. Nobody does bittersweet quite like Chapin. But as I’ve gotten older, despite my tendency to gravitate to her music when I’m feeling shitty, I do it for a much different reason now. Much like I said in yesterday’s post, rather than perpetuating the bad mindset, her music now jump starts my way out and back to reality.
I’ve said before that even though I’ve never met her and likely never will, Chapin and I seem to be on a similar spiritual journey. I admire her perseverance and willingness to experience life, even and especially when it hurts. In so many ways, listening to her music is like reuniting with a friend you haven’t seen in forever. I never know exactly how I’m going to feel when I listen to her music, but I know that I’ll feel something. When I listen to “Middle Ground” now, I don’t wish for the middle ground like I used to when I was in my early 20s. Rather, I know how to get there, and I think I do a much better job of staying in the middle ground than I ever have. Don’t kid yourself – it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to retrain my brain not so much in how it thinks but in how it reacts to my thoughts. That’s the gift that I’ve given myself – the realization that feelings are just feelings and they are NOT facts. A lot of my search for the middle ground (and the resultant anxiety that goes along with it) stemmed from me believing every single thing my brain threw at me – even things that were certifiably bullshit. Even at nearly 40, I still hear the negative self-talk tape. It will probably never go away. But what I do now, with varying degrees of success, is borrow a line from Ronald Reagan and say “oh, there I go again!” It’s not self-depracating, but just honest.
The middle ground isn’t some place you can stay forever and call yourself human. But let me tell you how much easier (and how much less dramatic) it is to be there. Like I said, not always there, but I feel like I spend more time there than I ever have. Considering how little time I used to spend there, it might not be saying much, but I chalk it up as a huge success. And like so many other times in my life, I’ve had help from someone that didn’t even know they were helping.
Still, if anyone can explain the lyric “all her single friends are men/she thinks married girls are so damn boring!” to me, I would be forever grateful. It seems like a terrible non sequitur to me.